Express-News Austin Bureau
AUSTIN – The Port of Houston is being considered as a site for a national blade testing facility that could attract wind turbine manufacturers to the state.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said Thursday that Texas will bid for the project being planned by the U.S. Energy Department. Other states in the race include Iowa, Ohio, Massachusetts and Virginia.
Although the facility would employ only five researchers, it could help attract turbine manufacturers, Patterson said. The U.S. Energy Department predicts wind power will be an $80 billion global business by 2020.
“We want the blade testing facility here in Texas because it fits in with what we’re doing in being the leader in wind power,” said Patterson, a promoter of wind power whose office has leased state land offshore for turbines.
Last month, Texas surpassed California as the state with the most installed wind capacity. The 2,400 megawatt capacity represents about 3 percent of the state’s power needs.
Patterson likened the potential of the research and development lab to the boost given by the Johnson Space Center to the high-tech industry in the 1960s.
“The race for wind energy is like a modern-day space race,” he said.
Most turbines are now manufactured in Europe.
Patterson was speaking for a coalition of Texas universities, state agencies and wind generators working on the proposal.
As part of the bid package being prepared, the public and private partners would commit as much as $9 million toward the project, Patterson said. The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is putting up $2 million toward construction.
Growth in the size of the giant blades has outstripped the capacity of the existing NREL facility near Boulder, Colo. The new laboratory must be capable of testing blades up to 230 feet long.
Land office officials already have visited Houston and Freeport, and will go to Corpus Christi and Ingleside next week. Patterson said Brownsville and Port Arthur also are being reviewed.
He said it’s unclear whether the state will name a site in its proposal to the Energy Department, or wait and see if Texas is selected. The main requirements for a site are land and a building near a seaport or navigable river.
The deadline for the proposal is Oct. 2, and the federal grant is expected to be awarded next year.
Patterson said some money for the project might come from Gov. Rick Perry’s economic development fund as well as some of the universities interested in renewable energy research, including the University of Houston, University of Texas and Texas A&M University.
Mark Stover, a consultant to the coalition, said the state also is looking for private funds.
Stover said the industry is going to larger turbine blades because they generate more power. Researchers are hoping to develop lighter blades that revolve more slowly.
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