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BCB OKs $21 Million More for Clemson Wind Turbine Center

Clemson University received approval Wednesday to boost the budget for its Lowcountry wind turbine test facility by more than 20 percent.

Without discussion, an additional $21 million was approved for the project by the S.C. Budget and Control Board during a 10-minute BCB meeting, possibly the quickest on record.

That brings the total funding for Clemson’s wind turbine drivetrain testing facility to $119 million. In addition, there will be operating costs of approximately $3 million total for the first three years after the facility is completed next year, Angie Liedinger, Clemson’s director of governmental affairs, told The Nerve.

Of the $119 million figure, only $14.1 million – or 11.8 percent – is listed as coming from non-government sources, records show.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Clemson a $45 million grant, which was combined with $53 million in matching government and private funds, to build and operate a wind turbine drivetrain testing facility at the school’s Restoration Institute research campus on the former Charleston Navy base in North Charleston.

A drivetrain takes energy generated by a turbine’s blades and increases the rotational speed to drive the electrical generator, much like a car’s transmission. 

The funding approved by the BCB will be used in part to build out a grid simulator at the facility, according to Budget and Control Board information.

Richard Eckstrom, one of the five members of the Budget and Control Board, told The Nerve Wednesday that he likes the project because he sees wind power as a means to diversify the nation’s energy sources.

“The one thing that motivates me to have a favorable interest in this project is that it will eventually ease our reliance on petroleum-based energy,” Eckstrom said. “There are a lot of hare-brained ideas out there, but this is one that appears to be pretty well-thought-out.”

Of the original $98 million earmarked for the project, the $45 million from the federal government was awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Overall, the state is pitching in through a variety of means:

  • Clemson is putting in $18.4 million through institutional capital project funds;
  • The State Ports Authority, $10.2 million in property;
  • The state itself, $7 million in appropriations;
  • The Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority, $6 million in cash;
  • The S.C. Department of Commerce, $3 million; and
  • The S.C. Public Railways, a Commerce Department division, $366,511 in services.

In addition, $8 million will come from the Charleston Redevelopment Authority, records show.

The $3.55 million in non-government funding that was included in the increase approved Wednesday will come from “private industry support for the project,” Liedinger said, adding she is hopeful that more money will be raised through private businesses.

Wind power has already consumed significant public money in South Carolina in recent years.

Santee Cooper alone has spent at least $1.6 million studying wind power, with much of that going to the Palmetto Wind Research Project, officials with the utility have said.

The endeavor, a collaborative effort that also involved the S.C. Energy Office and Coastal Carolina University, was launched in 2009 to study the possibilities of generating wind energy off the South Carolina coast.

Also, the S.C. Energy Office has been awarded at least $835,500 since 2004 from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund various initiatives to explore the feasibility of offshore wind energy development in South Carolina, according to the State Energy Office.

The extra funding approved by the Budget and Control Board is needed for the drivetrain test facility “to meet current seismic and wind codes, because of the anticipated complexity of the project,” according to state information.

The facility will be capable of full-scale highly accelerated testing of advanced drivetrain systems for wind turbines in the five-megawatt to 15-megawatt range, according to information from Clemson.

Eckstrom did say that he had a bit of heartburn related to ongoing operating costs for the facility.

“We’ve asked for a little bit more detail on revenue sources,” he said. “The question is, 'Iis this sustainable long term?' and at this point we don’t know.”

Wednesday’s vote was 5-0, with no discussion as to whether the private sector should be handling research rather than turning much of the cost over to government.

That’s the argument former Gov. Mark Sanford made in 2010 when the BCB approved $7 million in state money for the facility, with Sanford the lone dissenting vote in a 4-1 count.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.

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