GREENVILLE -- North Charleston landed a $98 million wind turbine test lab because of strong state support, good port facilities and Clemson University's "forward-looking" management plans, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday.
"They had all the right ingredients," Chu told The Post and Courier while touring Clemson's International Center for Automotive Research, adding that future wind lab is "going to be very important to the United States."
Chu said the wind turbines of the future will be massive pieces of machinery, and that putting them offshore makes sense because ocean winds tend to be stronger and more dependable than on land.
"But once you put it offshore, you want it to go for years," he said. "So the reliability of the drivetrain and blades is a very big deal."
That's where Clemson's new turbine drivetrain lab comes in. The facility will focus on ways to make more durable and efficient drivetrains, which in turn will make wind power more competitive with other forms of power generation.
Chu said South Carolina beat proposals from other states because the state offered "a very generous match," strong management plans and a site next to a good port.
Chu visited South Carolina one week after announcing that the Energy Department selected a consortium led by Clemson's Restoration Institute to build the new wind power lab. The Energy Department will give the consortium $45 million in federal stimulus money, with South Carolina agencies, businesses and private individuals chipping in the rest.
State development officials and lawmakers say the new facility puts South Carolina in an excellent position to attract new wind-power manufacturers, an industry likely to generate 10,000 jobs in South Carolina or more.
Chu was the keynote speaker for an energy symposium at Clemson's automotive research center off Interstate 85, which officials said is a model for what Clemson hopes to do in North Charleston.
About 250 business leaders, educators and lawmakers attended, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who introduced Chu as one of the "world's preeminent scientists."
Graham, a Republican who has taken heat for working with Democrats on climate legislation, said change is coming. "We're going to a green economy sooner or later, and my vote is that we lead," he said.
He also made pointed comments to critics of his bipartisan efforts. "To those who don't like the idea of parties working together, I think they misunderstand this country." Debate is healthy, he said. "It is not healthy to be unable to solve the country's problems."
During his speech, Chu, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize for physics, said the United States has "an opportunity to lead the world in a new industrial revolution," but that it's falling behind China and other countries in the race to create alternative energy sources.
He said nuclear power must be part of the nation's effort to wean itself from foreign oil, and that South Carolina is well positioned in this area because of its nuclear industry expertise.
Chu said that the state's strong ocean winds also could make it a power in the offshore wind arena and that the Clemson drivetrain project in North Charleston "could be the beginning of an offshore wind industry in the United States."
He added that the "cost of inaction is that we will forfeit our leadership in the second industrial revolution" and "expose our children to unconscionable risk" because of global warming. The symposium's attendees gave Chu a standing ovation.
Chu's comments come two weeks before the world's leaders meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to discuss international efforts to reduce global warming.
During his tour of Clemson's automotive research center, Chu told reporters that he doesn't think the Copenhagen gathering will produce an agreement but that he hopes it will generate a framework that leads to an international deal in the future.
Monday morning, Chu attended a groundbreaking at the Savannah River Site for a facility that will burn leftover wood products to create steam.
At the former nuclear weapons site near Aiken, Chu spoke as construction formally began on a $795 million biomass-powered electrical generating facility that will replace a coal-fueled plant built in the 1950s. The old plant would have needed significant work to bring it into compliance with current environmental regulations.
About 800 workers will be needed to help build the new steam-generating station which will burn 322,000 tons of wood products and shredded tires annually, Chu said.
"By investing in energy efficiency, we are creating good jobs that can't be outsourced," Chu said. "The money from those paychecks will go straight back into the local economy."