The US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which is seeking a new partner and another location for testing the next breed of larger wind turbine blades, recently extended its bidding deadline to November 10. Interest in partnering the testing facility has already been shown by groups in Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Mexico and Ohio. "It wouldn't surprise me if we got proposals from all those groups," says NREL's Jason Cotrell. "But we're dealing with state agencies, universities and private parties and it's often difficult to line all the pieces up. Our feeling is that the extension will result in higher quality proposals and allow us to make a better decision." The existing test facility, in Boulder, Colorado, can handle blades up to 50 metres. But new blades -- especially those intended for offshore -- are expected to be considerably longer. NREL wants a location where bigger blades can be easily transported. "I've seen offshore blades up to 62 metres," says Cotrell. "But onshore blades have also gotten dramatically longer. The places we'll be looking at will be near navigable waterways. That means coastal locations or places like Iowa with access to the Mississippi River and Ohio with Lake Erie." The new facility is expected to cost between $5-9 million. "We haven't been able to obtain full federal funding and that's why we're looking for a partner," says Cotrell. The Colorado facility will continue to test smaller blades. Cotrell says NREL's drive-train testing facility is also undersized and a future bidding process will look for a similar creative partnership. He expects an announcement toward the middle of next year, following NREL's spring strategic planning session. "The industry needs both of these new facilities," he says. "But we need partners because we're restrained as far as how much capital we can provide."
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