South Carolina Blazes Energy Independence Trail

This blog was co-authored by Toni Reale and Simon Mahan

The atmosphere at Clemson University’s groundbreaking ceremony for their new Drive Train Testing Facility yesterday was truly electric. Roughly 300 elected officials, academics and wind energy experts filled a North Charleston, South Carolina warehouse that, beginning in January 2011, will begin to be transformed into a one-of-a-kind world class facility to test the industry’s demand for large wind turbines up to 15 megawatt (MW). The larger turbines are likely destined to be developed for offshore wind farms. Commercially available offshore wind turbines currently top out around 5 MW capacity.

“This project has put North Charleston, the Lowcountry and South Carolina on the world map in terms of innovation and driving innovation in this rapidly growing industry worldwide” – Dr. Nick Rigas, Director of the renewable energy focus area of the Restoration Institute at Clemson University and leader of the winning proposal that secured this facility.

Rendition of Clemson's 15 MW Turbine Testbed

Rendition of Clemson's 15 MW Turbine Testbed

In November 2009, Clemson University was awarded a hefty $45 million from the US Department of Energy and $53 million in private matching funds to build this facility. This is the single largest investment in South Carolina for any type of project. Clemson’s proposal out-competed other universities in Ohio, Michigan and Massachusetts to name a few. The facility is directly adjacent to a deepwater port and rail lines which made the venture very appealing as large turbines can weigh up to 400 tons and are best transported by barge and rail.

The US Department of Energy’s Mike Derby, Project Manager, stated in his opening remarks that this facility is a significant step forward for wind energy research and development that will be used by all wind manufacturers around the world. Most of the speakers at the event boasted about the facility’s potential to be an economic driver for the region. The US DOE projects that over the next decade SC could see 20,000 new jobs related to clean energy. IMO, a German-owned company that manufactures wind turbine and solar panel components, recently moved to the Lowcountry of SC because of Clemson’s announcement. IMO is the first of many companies projected to move to SC to be part of the wind-manufacturing cluster evolving around Clemson.

Both Senator Lindsey Graham (R) and Representative Jim Clyburn (D), both from South Carolina, spoke of the national security benefits of this facility. “I believe as Senator Graham does that we must get rid of our dependence on foreign oil,” said Rep. Clyburn. They believe that this facility is a big step in securing our nation’s energy independence.

Now the hard work begins. The electric atmosphere at the groundbreaking yesterday must be turned into a charge for our communities, South Carolina and our region to strongly support job-generating, clean energy development domestically.

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