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Wind energy research partnership up and running

TCU’s Institute for Environmental Studies and Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute in England are leading an international research project focusing on the impact of wind power development.

“Our goal is to provide the scientific data and information to deploy and site wind farms responsibly,” said Mike Slattery, director of the Institute for Environmental Studies.

The research started last spring and will take five years to complete. The teams are now fully staffed, and research is off and running in England, said Nick Eyre, leader of the team of researchers at Oxford.

The research focuses on three areas: wind turbine impact on birds and bats, wind turbine ecological and carbon and the socioeconomic impacts of wind projects.

Amanda Hale, assistant professor of biology, heads the “bird and bat team.” The team consists of three associates and is looking to hire undergraduate field technicians to help in the study, Hale said.

She said the team is focusing on collecting data about the mortality rates of flying animals. By next spring, it will be able to have a clear breakdown of how many bird and bat deaths are caused by wind mills, Slattery said.

Kris Karsten, postdoctoral research associate, said the bird and bat team is on the forefront and the team is the first project in Texas to look into wind turbines impact on birds and bats. He works full time on the research project with Hale.

“We are trying to come up with a method that is efficient and scientifically robust,” Hale said. “The research won’t be applied exclusively to Texas but to all of North America.”

Slattery said the goal of researching wind impact on birds and bats is to develop guidelines for how wind turbines can have minimal impact on them.

The research is being conducted at the Wolf Ridge wind farm in Munster, which is about 80 miles north of Fort Worth.

The second research team is looking at the socioeconomic impact of wind projects. The team is currently studying two counties located in West Texas, Sterling and Coke County.

Two large surveys are circulating in those counties to discover peoples’ perceptions of wind in Texas, Slattery said. The team is working on its first report, which deals with finding out what are the real impacts of bringing wind turbines into communities, he said.

“We are trying to figure out the effect wind mills have in financial terms and in terms of the sociology and the culture of the area,” Slattery said.

According to a report by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas leads the nation in wind power. The U.S. supplies 16,596 megawatts of wind power; Texas is responsible for supplying 4,296 megawatts of power.

The third aspect of the research is lead by Oxford.

“They have a unique group of people that work together on how we move our energy portfolios towards a lower carbon future,” Slattery said.

He said lower carbon futures reduce peoples’ dependence on fossil fuels. Oxford not only looks at how fossil fuels can be reduced on the local scale but also looks at what corporations and governments can do, Slattery said.

According to Oxford’s ECI Web site, the team consists of 20 people including graduate students and full-time researchers. The Oxford team uses computer modeling to analyze how current trends need to be modified to reach the long-term goal of reducing greenhouse emissions.

“They are ahead of the game; they have been putting up wind for a lot longer than we have,” Slattery said. “They are our lead into the European research.”

FPL Energy,LLC, the nation’s largest wind and solar energy producer, holds 34 percent of wind energy in the U.S. and funded the $3.2 million research project, Slattery said.

Slattery is responsible for getting the research program coordinated with FPL Energy, LLC, and Oxford. He graduated from Oxford and said he has always wanted to pair up with his alma mater to conduct research.

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