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An award of $54 million to three wind companies in the US by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is focusing controversy once again on the laboratory's next generation turbine development programme. The programme has long been criticised for funding too many projects unlikely to bear commercial fruit.

The most controversial choice is clearly Kenetech, which just announced massive financial losses of $250 million for 1995. The company is selected for prototype development of a KVS-50 direct-drive turbine rated at 650 kW capacity, according to NREL. The turbine, states NREL, will be somewhat similar to Kenetech's existing models, the KVS-33 and KVS-45.

Also selected for cost-shared funding to fabricate turbines is the lesser-known Wind Turbine Company of Bellevue, Washington state, for its WTC-1000, a 1 MW unit with a 100 metre tower. The trio is completed by the choice of Zond Systems Inc, a veteran of the business, to manufacture a Z-56 upwind, variable speed turbine with a rotor diameter of 56 metres and a rated output of 1.1 MW, apparently generally similar to Zond's Z-40 machine.

The awards are made by NREL and the US Department of Energy (DOE) to lower the cost of wind energy significantly. Each company is to contribute a major part of the project costs. The three firms selected were among ten chosen last year for the first phase of the project, a concept definition study of turbines for moderate wind speed sites. The Department of Energy says it hopes that the turbines will become commercialised within four years. The cost of wind power is to be $0.04/kWh or less for sites with winds of 5.8 m/s by 1998-2000.

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