A new National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) wind turbine blade test facility is coming to either Massachusetts or Texas. The two finalists result from a request for proposals a year ago that produced six applicants, which were scored by a technical panel of US Department of Energy (DOE) experts and wind industry representatives. In addition to applicant qualifications, judging criteria included easy access to water transportation, facility expansion opportunities and ability to protect intellectual property. The test facility will handle blade lengths up to at least 70 metres and will work in conjunction with NREL's existing location in Boulder, Colorado, which can only test blades up to 50 metres long. Rapid growth in wind turbine size has outstripped the capabilities of the Boulder location, which is currently the only North American operation capable of testing megawatt-scale blades. Partners submitting the Massachusetts proposal include the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the University of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Economic Development. The Texas partners are led by the University of Houston and the Texas General Land Office. DOE and NREL will provide the winning bid with $2 million in capital equipment and technical assistance. The facility is expected to cost between $9-12 million. A final decision is expected this month. Eventually, the possibility exists for retrofitting the Boulder facility to handle larger blades. "If the market pans out the way we think it will, there'll be a need for more than one testing facility," says NREL's Jason Cotrell.
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