BY: LEANNE O'BRIEN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY: LEANNE O'BRIEN
THE HUGE BUILDING next to the lot holding imported cars in Charlestown looks a lot like a warehouse, but it’s actually part of an effort by Massachusetts to attract cutting-edge renewable energy technology to the state.
“To the untrained eye this may look like any other building, but it is actually a machine -- a sophisticated, intricate machine,” Patrick Cloney, executive director of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said yesterday at the unveiling of the nation’s first large-scale wind turbine testing facility.
The building dwarfs the 48-meter Clipper Windpower blade that it houses, the first wind turbine blade to be tested at the one-of-a-kind facility. The Wind Technology Testing Center will offer third-party testing of prototype wind turbine blades developed by manufacturers.
The facility, which has the capacity to test blades nearly a football field long, will simulate 20 years of wear over a period of just a few months. From their third floor control room, operators can also subject blades to intense stress by using equipment to pull them in opposite directions.
The construction of the facility was financed with $24.7 million in federal stimulus funds, a $2 million federal National Renewable Energy Lab grant, and $13.2 million in grants and loans from the state’s Clean Energy Center.
For Gov. Deval Patrick, the testing facility is a long-awaited step towards his vision of Massachusetts as a clean energy hub. “I was thinking when we were here to break ground, I better win re-election so I can be here to cut the ribbon." Patrick said.
US Rep. Michael Capuano credited the stimulus package with the creation of 300 construction jobs at the site and attracting new industries to the state. “You know that big, bad bill that everybody hated so much? It created this facility. It created these jobs,” he said.
Another supporter of the project, US Rep. Ed Markey said that he looks forward to a future of energy self-sufficiency in which the state “will be telling OPEC that we don’t need their oil any more than we need their sand.”
Craig Christenson, senior vice president of Clipper Windpower, the wind turbine testing facility’s first customer, said the center will enable his company to introduce new products to the market more quickly. Previously, the company had been forced to outsource the testing of their turbine blades to European companies. Christenson said the new facility means the US has “regained a leadership position” in the field of wind technology after years of European dominance.
Officials said customers of the facility will be charged fees that vary depending on the scope of the testing project. Revenues will flow to the Clean Energy Center, a state authority that invests in renewable energy projects and companies. Cloney said the facility is booked solid for the next 18 months, attracting domestic and foreign blade manufacturers, even some that have their own testing facilities.