Clemson Seeking $3 Million More in State Funds for New Energy Research Center

April 15, 2013

Investigative Reports

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4e733ded53b7e7e6499580cf41af2ae3Clemson University wants an additional $3 million in state funds for a new energy research center to be part of the university’s Restoration Institute in North Charleston, a wind-energy research facility launched several years ago with $45 million in federal stimulus money.

The fiscal 2014 budget request for the proposed “Center for Energy Systems” would allow for the recruitment of 10 faculty members and four research scientists who specialize in energy systems, Clemson spokeswoman Cathy Sams told The Nerve in an email last week.

“The center is important because energy is one of the great challenges facing the nation,” said Sams. “The cost and availability of energy impact every aspect of the economy.”

The proposal comes amid Clemson’s push for autonomy from state oversight in purchasing and leasing property, The Nerve reported earlier this month. Under a bill (S. 535) sponsored by state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, Clemson’s new “enterprise” division also would be exempt from the state’s procurement code and would have bonding authority.

The S.C. House last month approved the additional funding for the energy research center in passing its version of the $22.7 billion state budget for next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The Senate Finance Committee next will decide on Clemson’s $3 million request; the university is seeking a total fiscal 2014 budget of $784.5 million, an increase of $6.6 million over this fiscal year’s total ratified budget.

Although the proposed energy research center would be a recurring program, the $3 million in state funding for it would be a one-time appropriation, said Rep. Lester Branham, D-Florence and chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Education and Public Works Committee, when contacted by The Nerve.

Asked how many private companies planned to support the proposed center and the projected total cost, Sams couldn’t provide specifics, though she noted that “there is significant potential for private and grant funding.”

“Utility companies worldwide are interested in these facilities,” she said, “and their potential for accelerating the development of alternative energy sources and energy technology innovations.”

“Clemson has developed a strategic plan to leverage these unique research and testing facilities,” continued Sams, “to build an internationally recognized Center for Energy Systems, where faculty, researchers and students will work with industry to further energy innovations.”

The center has the “potential to make South Carolina a hub of energy-related research and development, which can attract energy-related industries, suppliers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs for South Carolina,” she said.

Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, who sits on the House Ways and Means’ subcommittee on higher education, agreed that energy research is important.

“That’s where everyone is going now, and there’s a lot of research taking place,” he told The Nerve last week. “You want to be at the cutting edge, and that’s basically why we (the House) were in favor of it.”

Clemson’s Restoration Institute itself is still in the building stages. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded Clemson a $45 million stimulus grant in 2009 to build what Sams described as “the world’s most advanced wind turbine drive-train testing facility.”

A wind turbine is a device used to convert wind energy into mechanical energy, which can ultimately be used as electricity.

According to a press release, the goal of the facility is to advance South Carolina’s position in the coastal and off-shore wind power market, establishing the state as a leader in the “design, construction and operation of wind farms on the eastern seaboard through education and public outreach, research and economic development.”

Sams added that the institute will include a “state-of-the-art grid simulator to support research, testing and certification of energy innovations in a simulated environment.” The five-member S.C. Budget and Control Board, which includes the governor, comptroller general, treasurer and chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees, last May unanimously approved  $21 million to be used in part for the grid-simulator project.

The additional money brought the total investment in the Restoration Institute to $119 million at the time, though only $14.1 million, or 11.8 percent, was from non-government sources, The Nerve reported then.

Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or kelli@thenerve.org. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.