|HOUSTON — FPL Energy LLC, the nation's largest wind energy producer, will team up with Texas Christian and Oxford universities on a five-year study of wind power's ecological and socioeconomic impacts, the participants said Wednesday.
The study will begin in the coming weeks in Texas, the U.S. leader in wind-generated power, before expanding to other sites around the country.
The project is expected to cost FPL Energy, a subsidiary of Florida-based FPL Group Inc., more than $2 million, the company said.
Research will cover a variety of topics, such as how the massive turbines and their spinning blades affect birds and bats.
It will examine the extent that wind energy, as an alternative to electricity generated by fossil fuels, helps reduce carbon emissions.
"As the need for power increases across the U.S. and the climate change debate intensifies, we believe now is the right time for a comprehensive research program to study the real environmental impacts and benefits of wind power," said FPL Energy President Mitch Davidson.
More than $9 billion in investments helped U.S. wind capacity grow by 45 percent last year, and 2008 is poised to match those levels, the American Wind Energy Association has said.
U.S. wind farms will generate more than 1 percent of the nation's electricity supply this year, and the estimated
48 billion kilowatt-hours of wind energy is enough to power the equivalent of more than 4.5 million homes, according to the wind energy trade group.
Some wind projects, however, have spurred controversy over their potential environmental effects.
The dispute over construction of two wind farms adjacent to the famed King Ranch in South Texas has prompted lawsuits from conservation groups and others concerned about the impact the farms will have on wetlands, habitat, endangered species and migratory birds.
Participants in the new study say some research will focus on ways to monitor avian and bat movement and mortality before and after turbine construction.
The project also will study the aesthetic impact of wind farms — some of which include hundreds of turbines — and their effect on employment and taxes.