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Board OKs $7 million for wind turbine research

By Mike Fitts
Published Jan. 13, 2010

Over the governor’s opposition, the state Budget and Control Board has approved funding for the wind turbine research facility coming to Charleston as a result of a federal grant.

gewe36_001 Clemson landed the $45 million Energy Department grant in November to test next-generation wind turbines at its Restoration Institute on the former Navy Base in North Charleston. Wednesday’s 4-1 vote sets the state’s portion of that money in motion, including $7 million from the strapped general fund.

Also Wednesday, Clemson named Nick Rigas director and senior scientist at the facility. Rigas, who has been assistant to the vice president at the Clemson Restoration Institute, will oversee construction and operation of the facility.

The huge new wind turbine drivetrains that Clemson intends to test will have potential power capacity of 5 megawatts to 30 MW. The turbine systems are so massive that they are likely to be transported by waterway instead of highway.

“We are at the beginning of a journey that will end with one of the world’s most important sites for wind energy research and development based in South Carolina,” Rigas said in a statement.

Gov. Mark Sanford was the only vote against the state spending, arguing that the costs of such research should be borne by private enterprise, not a government effort.

Clemson has letters from wind turbine manufacturers General Electric and Siemens, which constitute 60% of the current market, saying they will use the new facility, said Clemson’s Angela Leidinger. Others are expected to follow.

The hope, according to institute executive director John Kelly, is that manufacturers will build in the state to take easy advantage of the test facility. Use of the port could allow establishment of a strong export industry to Europe, where wind power is increasing, Kelly said. Such massive turbines often would be put to use offshore.

The grant was a major win for Clemson in a competition with top universities across the country, Leidinger said. Clemson officials expect the facility to be ready in about three years.

Sanford noted that the Restoration Institute has not driven new job growth in the way that was hoped when it was launched two years ago. The wind research extends that mission, Leidinger said.

Also this morning, the board approved with little debate a package of bond sales to help facilitate the new Boeing assembly line in North Charleston.

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