Large-scale U.S. wind turbine blade testing facility opens on East Coast

The Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown, Mass., provides three test stands and 100 tons of overhead bridge crane capacity to test wind blades up to 90m/295 ft long.

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Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on May 18 joined state and federal officials and wind industry leaders in Charlestown, Mass., to commission the first facility in the U.S. capable of testing wind turbine blades as long as 90m/295 ft. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s (MassCEC) Wind Technology Testing Center (WTTC) can accommodate prototype composite blades longer than the world’s current longest, the LM 73.5P, designed and built by Kolding, Denmark-based LM Wind Power (see story on p. 11). The testing site is expected to be a critical component in the development of next-generation rotor blades in the U.S. marketplace. WTTC’s proponents hope the presence of a testing facility on this scale located on U.S. soil will attract more blade manufacturers to North America.

The WTTC will be equipped with three test stands (providing the ability to test three blades simultaneously), and 100 tons of overhead bridge crane capacity and will offer a full suite of certification tests for turbine blades up to 90m in length. Services will include static and fatigue testing, blade material testing, dual-axis static or fatigue testing and quality testing. As part of an effort to help the wind industry deploy the next generation of onshore and offshore wind turbine technologies, the WTTC will offer not only the latest wind turbine blade testing and prototype development methodologies but research and development partnerships, blade repair capabilities and hands-on workforce training as well.

“To win the clean energy future, our nation and state must enthusiastically embrace the use of large-scale wind turbines in onshore and offshore wind farms,” said Gov. Patrick. “The Wind Technology Testing Center will help achieve that goal by doing business with companies from around the world and advancing the next generation of blade technology.”

According to WTTC officials, the test site already is attracting global wind blade manufacturing to Massachusetts. Last fall, wind blade manufacturer TPI Composites (Scottsdale, Ariz.) opened a wind blade R&D and prototyping facility in Fall River, Mass., where the first prototypes are already in process. TPI will be a WTTC customer and has cited the new facility as a key driver in its decision to set up shop nearby. Clipper Windpower (Carpinteria, Calif.) will be the first blade manufacturer to make use of WTTC’s services.

WTTC was conceived in June 2007, when Massachusetts won a competitive $2 million federal grant offered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, Boulder, Colo.), plus in-kind technical and operating assistance, to help outfit and run a new wind blade testing center. In May 2009, $24.7 million more came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to accelerate Center development. MassCEC provided $13.2 million in grants and loans for design and initial development expenses. MassCEC, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and NREL’s National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) broke ground on the WTTC n October 2009. (Until the advent of WTTC, NWTC was the prime U.S. blade-testing facility, albeit on a smaller scale.) The WTTC is positioned in a deepwater port and near interstate highways. The location enables blade shipping primarily by water, although shorter blades could easily go over the road.