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Zombie ARRA Funds Turn South Carolina Into Wind Powerhouse

South Carolina has just cemented its reputation as a wind power force to be reckoned with, thanks to a massive new state-of-the-art wind turbine testing center in Charleston that officially opened yesterday. The aptly named Large Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing Facility is the biggest in the US and it will pave the way to developing next generation turbines up to the 15 megawatt range, just about right for all those new offshore wind farms envisioned for states along the Atlantic seaboard, including South Carolina.

As for who’s gonna pay for all this, President Obama’s much maligned (in certain quarters) federal Recovery Act of 2009, otherwise known as ARRA, is the gift that keeps on giving. ARRA chipped in with $45 million to build the new wind turbine test facility at Clemson University in Charleston and another $60 million came from public and private stakeholders in South Carolina.

Why Blow Taxpayer Money On A New Wind Turbine Test Facility

The new facility will rev up the pace of wind turbine development by packing 20 years’ worth of real world field use into just a few months, with prototypes hooked up to test rigs in a former Navy warehouse.

New wind turbine test facility at Clemson U.

Test rig (cropped) courtesy of Clemson University.

To give you some idea of the scale, the facility’s 7.5 megawatt (MW) turbine test rig has a diameter of 26 feet and weighs 150 tons.

That’s chump change compared to the 15 MW rig, which is 43 feet in diameter and weighs about 400 tons.

A grid simulator (Duke Energy’s eGRID) is part of the package, which will help stakeholders and researchers development more efficient pathways for integrating wind power into the national grid.

As with other new federal clean energy test beds developed under the Obama Administration (hydrokinetic power and ocean power, for example), the new facility is designed to help the energy industry cut R&D costs. That’s in step with longstanding energy industry assistance practice in the U.S. for nuclear and fossil fuels.

The bottom line: nationally, the potential for 4,000 gigawatts in offshore wind power and thousands of green jobs.

Wind Power For the East Coast

The US has been slow (as in, really slow) to catch the global offshore wind power wave, but that is about to change thanks in part to the Atlantic Coast Wind Energy Consortium.  This Interior Department initiative kicked off in 2010 with ten East Coast states signing on from Maine to North Carolina, to coordinate a regional plan to kick wind power development up to the next level.

Curiously absent from that list is South Carolina, despite the fact that it has just marked out its territory as the epicenter of Atlantic Coast offshore wind development thanks to the new R&D facility.

By some measures South Carolina also happens to rank #2 in the US for wind turbine manufacturing.

However, considering the politics involved in federal assistance for renewable energy development, South Carolina’s reluctance to officially kick off the Consortium makes sense.

The Consortium was formed through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Interior Department, signed by the governors of each state. However, while the governors of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida did not put a John Hancock on the MOU, all three states began cooperating in various forms when the Consortium was announced.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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