Charlestown Turbine Testing Attracts Energy Companies To Mass.

BOSTON — Beneath the Tobin Bridge, at the end of a vast parking lot in Charlestown is a giant metal building. Inside is a business that state energy officials hope will spur economic development and investment in wind energy.

“This is the lab with three test stands so we’re able to simultaneously test three blades at a time,” said Rahul Yarala, director of the Wind Technology Testing Center. Wind energy companies pay to have their turbine blades tested for safety inside this massive warehouse. The center also evaluates new technologies and has an international certification for their blade design.

The center was a big investment for the state and federal government. The quasi-public Massachusetts Clean Energy Center chipped in $13 million, and $27 million more came from the federal government.

Standing near a turbine, you realize how tiny you are beneath a span of metal that’s 85 feet tall and slightly longer than a football field.

“We want Tom Brady to come here and throw to the other end, so we’re still waiting,” Yarala said.

Two huge wind turbine blades that look like giant curved elephant tusks are bolted into the wall. One is 144 feet long and the second runs 164 feet. To test them, engineers attach a series of pulleys to move the blade up and down and side to side, imitating the stresses that wind would put on the blade.

“So we have about 190 sensors on this,” Yarala said, pointing to one blade strung with yards of wire and numerous black dots. “They’re measuring stresses and strains. In these 190 locations we’re able to tell how the material is behaving.”

They’re trying to determine whether it can sustain stresses without breaking once the blade is deployed atop a high tower with whipping winds. They also want to know how long it will take before the blade is so battered it needs to be replaced. They will bend the blades millions of times for four to six months.

At the request of one client, Yarala’s staff broke a blade on purpose to help the manufacturer better understand its design. In the video of that test, the pulleys slowly bend the blade so that it is bowing dramatically toward the floor in a massive arc.

“This is like a crash test on a car. It’s not a load the wind turbine would see when it’s producing normal power,” Yarala said.

As the blade is bent further you can hear individual strands of fiberglass snapping inside. Then the blade snaps in half.

The Wind Technology Testing Center is one of just three in this country; the other two are in Maine and Colorado. But the one in Charlestown is the largest of its kind. It has the ability to test blades that are almost 300 feet in length, even though most blades in the U.S. are only around 165 feet long.

The mounting bases for the turbine blades. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The mounting bases for the turbine blades. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Yarala hopes to see a blade that tests the capacity of his enormous center in three to five years. He says new, longer blades outgrew the Colorado facility only three years after it opened.

“So we didn’t want to make that mistake,” he said. “I think we’re covered for a while.”

State energy officials say the testing center is a big boon for the state. The facility has 10 long-term customers, there’s a waitlist for certification testing, and it’s on target to reach a goal of nearly $2 million* in revenue this fiscal year.

State Energy Secretary Rick Sullivan hopes the center will soon be able to rely completely on fees from the wind energy companies to cover operational costs. When asked what he would say to a critic who argues it should be up to companies to do their own testing, Sullivan explained that that’s the beauty of the center’s model.

“They’re bringing their product here, they’re bringing their blades here and they’re being tested here and they pay for that,” Sullivan said. “It’s working here in Massachusetts, growing the clean energy cluster — the renewable cluster.”

Sullivan says the center is a big draw for clean energy companies and one Arizona-based company, TPI Composites, has opened a development facility in Fall River because of the proximity to the Charlestown testing center.

The Patrick administration is hoping the center will encourage more companies to do the same, and bring more jobs to the state.

Correction: The audio and an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Wind Technology Testing Center’s revenue goal for this fiscal year. The facility is on track to reach its goal of $2 million in revenue, not $2 billion.

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  • ytreggah

    Massachusetts faces serious noise issues over poor siting of commercial wind turbines .The state has placed the entire renewable energy projects in Massachusetts against the health of its citizens .

    Quonsett Point ,Rhode Island already has the crane and dock space for both wind
    projects in Massachusetts and Rhode Island . It wasn’t that long ago a local
    company was going to build all the bases for the wind turbines and that work
    went to Chinna.

    Cape Wind still faces three major legal issues in court
    and in addition the commercial wind turbines they agreed to purchase in 2010
    have been replaced with a better model that could trigger another review because
    of a change in the size.

    Cape Wind has two location one in Falmouth and
    the other at Quonset Point .

    Quonset Point is home of two of the largest
    companies in the world. One the largest barge company and the largest ocean
    contractor in the United States.

    If the construction started in 2010
    like they said New Bedford would have had a chance. Today New Bedfod is two
    years behind the schedule .

    The price of the project since 2010 has
    tripled from 35 million to 100 million

    Masachusetts faces major problems with the poor siting of commercial wind turbines in Fairhaven , Falmouth , Scituate and Falmouth over noise issues

    • X-Ray

      You do understand that the article has nothing directly to do with Cape Wind or the problems you allege about siting, noise or economics, don’t you? The facility described is for general structural testing and static qualification of blades.

      • ytreggah

        The company that is providing the 3.6-MW offshore wind turbines for Cape Wind has problems with the gear boxes and cooling.They have come out with a new 4.0 megawatt turbine.
        History of wind turbine blades show you need two to three years in service to inspect blades to repair or replace. Any blade even from the old Neg Micron turbines back in 1999 would pass a bogus test in Charlestown. There are NO standards for testing turbine blades and no way to hold the testing facility legally responsible for a failure – The testing is bogus

  • X-Ray

    At the risk of being pedantic, the gages applied to the blade measure
    strain. With some assumptions and a calculation, the stress at these points can
    be determined, but stress gages (mentioned in the article) doesn’t exist.

    • WindTester

      Right you are – in fact, the tests do use strain gauges to measure strain in the material during the test. If you know the modulus of elasticity of the material where the strain gauge is applied you can calculate the local stress at that location. Now if only there was a way to get reporters to run their articles by an engineer for technical accuracy before it is published …

  • ArtyB

    When I heard this statement this morning, I was shocked

    “The facility has 10 long-term customers, there’s a waitlist for certification testing and it’s on target to reach a goal of nearly $2 billion in revenue this fiscal year.”

    Is this facility really generating $2 billion of revenue? Hard to believe…

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      why not pay back the taxpayers 40 million and a few mil in interest?

  • crescentfang

    It would be nice if the company can stop relying on our tax money to support itself. Unfortunately, the wind turbines themselves will always need mandates, feed in tariffs, tax write offs, etc. Even Cape Wind charges the utilities twice as much per Watt as the utilities charge their customers and they have the best site in the State.

  • 1barbaradurkin

    The Charlestown Wind Technology Testing Center has created 0.00 jobs from June 30, 2011 to March 31, 2013 according to the federal governments Recovery Tracker-


    The first customer of this publicly-funded, $40 million dollar facility is Clipper Wind formed by former Enron Director James Dehlsen.


    Clipper Wind–First Wind CEO Paul
    Gaynor serves as Deval Patrick’s appointed green policy Advisor. Long
    term Clipper customer, First Wind, paid Clipper $60 million for wind turbines
    Clipper will not deliver. In related court filings, First Wind stated: “Substantial
    evidence exists that Clipper has serious financial problems, is unprofitable,
    and is running out of cash,” First Wind wrote in its complaint”

    The center’s second customer is just as scandalous–TPI Composites–with Director serving as First Wind Director–with CEO Patrick’s appointed green policy Advisor.
    Only the Patrick Administration would boast about a $40 million in ratepayer and taxpayer dollars being committed to a Boondoggle like this one.

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