A firm racing to build the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. is seeking the help of Clemson University's turbine drivetrain-testing facility in North Charleston.

Fishermen's Energy of New Jersey wants the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center to evaluate the performance of the drivetrain on a turbine that is the heart of the project.

"We want to bring it here to test it," said Paul Gallagher, CEO of Fishermen's Energy.

That could happen if the company is a finalist for U.S. Department of Energy funding of up to $47 million for offshore wind advanced technology demonstration projects.

"The potential is enormous," Gallagher said.

Fishermen's Energy is one of seven firms initially awarded $4 million each to complete the engineering, site evaluation and planning phase of their project. The company expects to know in mid-May whether it made the final group of up to three projects.

The firm wants to put up to five turbines three miles offshore from Atlantic City to harness the wind's energy and convert it to electricity.

"We have never built one in the open seas," said Kees Versteegh, chief technical officer for XEMC-Darwind, which designs and manufactures turbines.

Recently, Fishermen's Energy ran into rough seas at the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which voted against the project. The company filed an appeal on Monday, The Associated Press reported.

Gallagher expressed optimism about the future of the $200 million project, noting that the BPU ruling is only one piece of a complicated puzzle.

The $108 million Clemson facility on the former Navy base is a key part of a national effort to harness a clean energy source. It is the largest of the nation's two drivetrain testing locations, both of which opened last year.

The idea is that years or decades of wear on a turbine can be simulated in a matter of months, helping to identify problems and improve efficiency.

Turbines rated for up to 7.5 and 15 megawatts can be tested in North Charleston. A facility in Colorado can test turbines up to 5 megawatts.

GE Power & Water is the first firm to plan wind turbine testing at the Clemson lab. It will begin this spring, said Clemson spokesman Peter Hull.

The economic benefit from the turbine testing facility includes trucking and crane operator jobs as well as research and development spin-offs, he said.

How much it costs to have a turbine tested is not revealed, Hull said.

"In simple terms, it's charged on a monthly basis. Dollar amounts depend on total time in the facility and the range of testing required," he said.

In general, the cost is many, many thousands of dollars, he said.

"I can't be more specific than that because it varies from customer to customer and most of the contract details are under non-disclosure agreements," he said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.