University of Houston wind-power testing site approved for design

The University of Houston has completed an agreement with the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to design, construct and operate a state-of-the-art wind turbine blade testing facility at Ingleside, Texas.

UH will receive technical and operational assistance from NREL as well as $2 million in equipment for the Gulf Coast testing site. Construction is expected to be completed in 2010. The Texas-NREL Large Blade Research and Test Facility (LBR&TF) will be able to perform full-scale testing of turbine blades up to 70 meters in length.

UH is the general manager of the Lone Star Wind Alliance (LSWA), a public/private partnership of universities, government agencies and corporate partners formed to support the economic development of renewable wind energy throughout Texas and the nation. The Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between UH and NREL was announced Tuesday, June 3, at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) WIND POWER conference taking place in Houston.

"As the nation's top wind energy producer, Texas is proud to welcome this crucial blade-testing center," said Gov. Rick Perry, who served as keynote speaker at the AWEA conference. "The construction of this facility is more tangible proof of our state's ongoing commitment to renewable energy and its growing role in our increasingly diverse energy portfolio. Texas is proud to be to be a global leader in this rapidly expanding field."

In addition to UH, the alliance includes The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, West Texas A&M University, Rice University, Lamar University, New Mexico State University, Old Dominion University, the Houston Advanced Research Center, the Texas General Land Office, the State Energy Conservation Office, the Texas Workforce Commission as well as 12 wind energy companies and suppliers, including Houston-based BP Alternative Energy, Shell WindEnergy, Dow Chemical and Huntsman International.

"The testing facility will stimulate cutting-edge research and attract a wealth of related industry to Texas," said U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has been a strong supporter of the Lone Star Wind Alliance initiative. "It's gratifying that all the hard work and intense preparation behind this proposal have produced such remarkable results."

The Lone Star Wind Alliance proposal also received support in the House from U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee and U.S. Rep. Gene Greene. State government played a vital role in securing the LBR&TF, as the Texas Legislature pledged $5 million toward its construction. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini led the way, with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst advocating its approval and Gov. Perry signing the final budget.

"Houston is the energy capital, and the University of Houston is well on its way to becoming the Energy University," said Renu Khator, president of UH and chancellor of the UH System. "This world-class facility is a perfect example of the innovative, research-based support that we are providing to advance Houston's and the state's global leadership in energy."

The Lone Star Wind Alliance is designing the LBR&TF to meet the wind industry's need for testing and certification of the next generation of megawatt-scale wind turbine blades. Private wind turbine and blade manufacturers are expected to fund much of the operations of the facility within five years of its construction. During that time, the Lone Star Wind Alliance members plan to conduct significant research and development efforts in all aspects of wind energy using this facility for testing new designs and concepts. NREL will also have access to the facility to conduct its own research.

The facility will be located on a 22-acre tract of waterway property at Ingleside-on-the-Bay (just north of Corpus Christi) donated by BP Alternative Energy, a founding member of the LSWA.

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