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Massachusetts realizes wind center dream

February 23, 2010 - 3:15pm

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When Patrick Cloney  -- executive director of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center -- had his first child in 2004, he was concerned about what the world would look like for the next generation.

“I thought we’d look so different environmentally if we don’t start employing renewable energy technologies,” he says. “I started looking at the industry and exploring opportunities.”

Massachusetts created the CEC in 2008. Not long after, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Massachusetts $25 million in funding from the Recovery Act to accelerate development of a Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown that will create as many as 300 construction, 30 design team and eight administrative jobs. The project may not have survived without stimulus money.

“When the numbers started coming in on what this project was going to cost, we ended up with options of dialing back the scope or finding a way to bridge the gap we had in funding,” Cloney says. “If we would have had to decrease capacity, it would’ve decreased the anticipated revenue — we started to get really nervous about how we could make this a successful venture. The Recovery Act helped us build the lab as it was originally envisioned, making the facility something that will survive on its own.”

The center will test commercial-sized wind turbine blades to help find innovative ways to reduce costs, improve technical advancements and speed the deployment of the next generation of wind turbines into the marketplace. Completion is expected near the end of 2010.

One important aspect of the new testing center will be its ability to test blades longer than 50 meters, which currently can only be done overseas. Soon, the U.S. wind industry will eliminate that disadvantage, as manufacturers come to the Bay State for help.

The center will be the largest of its kind in the world.

“We believe if we create this environment where ideas can be validated, it just increases the speed at which commercialization can happen,” Cloney says. “It’s like a gigantic flywheel — when stationary, it takes a lot of energy to get started, but once it’s up to speed, it’s impossible to stop it. That’s the feeling we have around here.”

Now Cloney is more confident about the country’s ability to decrease its dependence on foreign oil, going with more reliable, renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions so his child can grow up in a better world.

“Life is about leadership,” he says. “I’m glad there were people willing to put their name on the dotted line and say this is important for the environment, job creation, the energy industry and future generations. I’m ecstatic.”

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