More than a 1,000 people were awed by the sheer size of the massive equipment inside Clemson University’s new wind turbine drivetrain testing facility when they first saw it Thursday.

What they said about the facility

“This will be judged in history as something really significant.”

Jim Barker, Clemson University president

“This is amazing. The state contributed $10 million to this facility in 2010. Now we’re here celebrating one of the biggest moments in the history of the Lowcountry. This could bring in more jobs than Boeing.”

State. Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston

“I hope this means will be creating more jobs for engineers and that our kids will be able to stay here and earn a good living.”

Herb Sass, Charleston County councilman

“This is one of the most impressive facilities I have ever seen. It’s going to bring jobs to the county and to North Charleston. This is huge, huge.”

Teddie Pryor, Charleston County Council chairman

“This is a huge economic boon for the area and the state. ... It’s world-class.”

Dan Cooper, a former Republican state representative from Piedmont

“This is something exciting for the region, state and county. It will create jobs because of all of the businesses that will move here to support this. It puts us on the map even more than we are already.”

Rita Berry, president, CEO at the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce

“Short of Boeing, this is one of the most exciting economic development initiatives in the area.”

George Hynd, College of Charleston provost

“We’ve been waiting for this for four years.”

John Kelly, Clemson vice president for economic development

The university dedicated the 82,000-square-foot building, named the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, a project that has been in the works for four years. SCE&G supported the center with a $3.5 million gift.

New life at base

Clemson University’s new wind turbine drivetrain testing facility, now named the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, is part of the school’s planned energy campus that will breathe new life into the former Navy base in North Charleston.

The school has 27 of the former base’s 1,600 acres.

When the entire campus is built, it will employ at least 20 faculty, about 50 staff and about 200 graduate students. Many of those students will study in the planned Zucker Family Graduate Education Center. The university will break ground on that building in the spring.

The Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where the Hunley submarine lives, already is up and running on the campus. And the school plans to eventually build an advanced materials and composite materials research facility there.

Already the Innovation Center has more than 100 industry partners from around the world. Almost weekly, engineers, scientists and company executives from around the world visit the area to see the testing facility. Local leaders also hope that the Clemson campus will attract other, related businesses to the area.

Source: Clemson University

Clemson University President Jim Barker, who will retire in January after leading the upstate university for 14 years, said the opening of the more-than-$100 million facility on the former Navy base in North Charleston is one the highlights of his career at Clemson.

Coming Monday

Find out why a more than $100 million facility was built in North Charleston to test giant wind turbines, in a state with no wind farms, in a nation with no offshore wind power.

But local leaders were looking at the potential for economic development, and many them expressed hope that the center ultimately would lead to new jobs, and lots of them.

“This could bring in more jobs than Boeing,” said state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston.

Clemson officials said the new North Charleston energy campus, which will include the new facility and a few other buildings, eventually will have about 70 employees and 200 graduate students. But local elected officials and business leaders think it will inspire other energy-related businesses to set up shop nearby.

The wind turbine testing facility has the capability to test the huge drivetrains for offshore wind farms electrically as well as mechanically. The idea behind the testing facility is that manufacturers of offshore wind turbines from around the world will pay Clemson’s Restoration Institute to test their gear indoors in North Charleston before going to the great expense of putting the units in offshore wind farms.

The center also has a “grid simulator,” where the electrical functions of the wind turbine drivetrains can be tested for their potential impact on the electric grid.

But manufacturers of large-scale electrical equipment also can pay Clemson to test their equipment in a setting that responds like the national grid. The simulator allows the products to be tested, but their deficiencies can’t harm the grid.

That service also will bring in money for activities at Clemson’s North Charleston campus, said Nick Rigas, Clemson Restoration Institute’s executive director. “Clemson’s mission is for it to be self-sufficient.”

The grid simulator has been named the Duke Energy eGRID.

Duke contributed $5 million to help fund laboratory infrastructure and educational program development and fund a Smart Grid Technology Endowed Chair. Duke Energy employees also will provide the center with ongoing technical expertise and resources.

John Kelly, Clemson University vice president for economic development, said the Savannah River National Laboratory will open its first off-site research center in the new facility.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., one of the speakers at the dedication, said many leaders feel the country’s future is closely tied to new forms of energy, and “we need to create a smorgasbord of energy.” Wind energy is one of the items on the smorgasbord, he said. “I was so proud when a university in South Carolina was given the (federal) grant to launch the facility,” Clyburn said.

Clemson originally requested a $100 million grant, he said, but received only $45 million. But the university leveraged that money to raise the rest. “When South Carolinians get the opportunity to compete, we always do well.”

Daniel Poneman, U.S. deputy secretary of energy, was the keynote speaker. He said wind energy “is not some fantasy about our future. Wind energy, he said, is here.

More than 80,000 Americans are now employed in the wind energy field, he said. And 40 percent of all new alternative power comes from the wind. Clemson’s facility is top-notch, he said. “I travel a lot and I’ve been to a lot of wind facilities, but let me tell you, this is impressive.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.