Mass. to get $25M for wind blade test center

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Mass. to get $25M for wind blade test center

Postby StephanieCutts » Wed May 27, 2009 1:17 pm

Feds: Mass. to get $25M for wind blade test center


BOSTON (AP) ­ Massachusetts once boasted some of the fastest clipper ships in the world, and the state is again aiming to be a leader in harnessing the wind. ­ this time by hosting the nation's largest wind turbine blade testing facility.

The state will receive $25 million in federal stimulus dollars for construction of the testing center on Boston Harbor in the city's Charlestown neighborhood, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday.

When finished, the Wind Technology Testing Center will be the first commercial blade test facility in the nation capable of handling blades as long as 90 meters.

The longest blades currently in commercial use worldwide are about 60 meters long, although companies are exploring blades as long as 75 meters. No facility in the US is capable of testing blades longer than 50 meters.

The center will help wind turbine developers reduce costs, improve technical advancements and speed deployment of the next generation of blades to the marketplace, Chu said.

The facility is also part of the Obama administration's effort to dramatically ramp up the nation's reliance on renewable forms of energy and promote green technology jobs.

"As the world moves toward a significant expansion in wind power, the test blade facility will help make sure that the best, most efficient wind turbines are built right here in America," Chu said.

More research into longer blades could also help accelerate the development of large-scale offshore wind power facilities, according to Chu.

Massachusetts is in the running to be home to the nation's first offshore wind farm in the waters off Cape Cod. Cape Wind Associates LLC has proposed erecting 130 wind turbines across 25-square miles of federal waters in Nantucket Sound.

Chu said the testing center will attract companies from around the world to design, test and manufacture their blades in the United States. It will also spur the growth of American companies that are part of the supply chain for wind turbine production including fiberglass distributors and advanced composite materials manufacturers.

Massachusetts was tapped in 2007 as a possible location for the testing center. The federal Department of Energy pledged an initial $2 million for the project at the time.

Since then the state has pushed for the funding needed to break ground. The Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, funded through a small surcharge on electricity bills, set aside $13 million in grants and loans for design and development expenses, working capital and first year operating expenses.

In February, Gov. Deval Patrick met with Chu in Washington to push for stimulus funding. Sen. Edward Kennedy and the state's congressional delegation also lobbied for the project.

"Testing the next generation of wind turbines here will make Massachusetts a hub for the fastest-growing energy source in the world," said Patrick, who joined Chu at the Charlestown site to announce the funding.

Locating the center on the harbor will allow test blades too long to negotiate highways and local roads to be delivered by ship. The facility is also on a rail line.

The project is expected to create 250 construction jobs with work beginning in September. The facility should be ready to test its first blades in 2010.

Boston residents won't be seeing massive wind turbines spinning on the waterfront, however.

The facility will resemble a long, horizontal hangar. The turbine blades, which can weigh up to 15 tons, will be affixed on one end to pilings anchored 160 feet down. They will then be subjected to a battery of vibrational tests than can mimic 20 years of wear in three months.

Up to three blades will be able to be tested at a time.

Steve Lockard, president of Arizona-based TPI Composites, said the facility will help put new materials and designs through their paces, including the much longer blades that will be used to equip offshore wind farms.

"We're trying to demonstrate under extreme wind conditions," said Lockard, whose company includes a manufacturing plan in Iowa and development center in Rhode Island.
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