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10 Clean Energy Victories to Be Thankful For

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10 Clean Energy Victories to Be Thankful For

Throughout the year, we constantly ask for more when it comes to clean energy. We'll never get tired of additional jobs, investments and policies that strengthen the cause for renewables while decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels.

However, Thanksgiving offers a time to reflect on the progress already made in 2013. Here are 10 clean energy stories to be thankful for from the Sierra Club:

1. Oklahoma Energy Customers Save Money with Wind Power

Photo credit: Sierra Club

The fall of wind prices this year made it cheaper than any other source. As a result, more utilities are investing in it, bringing savings to consumers. Earlier this year, as a result of a settlement with the Sierra Club, American Electric Power announced it would add enough wind energy to power 200,000 homes in Oklahoma. AEP decided to increase its investment after seeing how wind "would provide substantial savings to our customers."

2. Colorado Doubles Down on Renewable Energy

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Photo credit: SustainableWorks.org

Colorado elevated clean energy in the Rocky Mountains when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law new legislation that will double the state's renewable energy standard. Now, 20 percent of the state's energy will come from clean sources.

3. Solar Incentives Make Way for Big Victory in Minnesota

Photo credit: Sierra Club

Minnesota is prepared to make a huge leap in clean energy by the next decade, thanks to comprehensive legislation passed the state legislature earlier this year. The state will boost its solar electricity from 13 megawatts (MW) to 450 MW by 2020—an increase of more than 1,200 percent. The legislation also provides new solar incentives to make the power more accessible. This past spring, more than 62 groups held a Day of Action at the Minnesota statehouse to urge elected officials to expand renewable energy in the state. More than 700 people turned out to the rally, including Governor Mark Dayton, the Service Employees International Union and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.

4. Facebook "Likes" Renewable Energy

Graphic credit: Sierra Club

The social network with more than 1 billion users announced this year that its Altoona, IA data center will be fully powered by wind by early 2015 when construction is complete and the center is operational. Facebook's power will come from a 138 megawatt wind farm in Wellsburg, IA to be built by MidAmerican Energy in 2014.

5. Nebraska Could be a Winner in Wind Power

Graphic credit: Sierra Club

The National Renewable Energy laboratory estimates that Nebraska wind could supply the state's electricity needs 120 times over. Still, the state lagged behind neighbors in wind power accessibility. After advocates applied pressure, Gov. Dave Heineman signed progressive legislation this year, with aspirations of tripling wind energy in Nebraska within just two years.

6. Solar Energy Beats Out Coal in Nevada

Photo credit: Sierra Club

The Nevada state legislature passed landmark legislation to retire the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant in Nevada, one of the state's dirtiest. The state also agreed to end the importing of coal power from Arizona and expand local clean energy development. Moapa Paiutes walked 50 miles over three days from their reservation to Las Vegas during the prior year to protest the Reid Gardner coal plant’s pollution and bring attention to the tribe’s efforts to develop solar energy.

7. So Many Solar Rooftops in California

Photo credit: Sierra Club

California is known for many things, but perhaps none more than the sunshine that beams down on rooftops in the Golden State throughout the year. The state's abundant sunshine has been a boon for local, clean energy like rooftop solar. In June, California's growing solar industry reached a major milestone when it was announced the state had passed 150,000 homes and businesses with rooftop solar installations.

8. Coal Trending Down in Georgia 

Photo credit: Georgia Interfaith Power & Light

 In one of the year's more surprising moves, environmental groups and Georgia's Tea Party teamed up to create the Green Tea Coalition. The group pushed for the Georgia Public Service Commission to approve Georgia Power's proposal to retire 20 percent of its coal plants and add 525 MW of solar power to Georgia by 2016. Georgia Power also withdrew a proposal to charge solar customers extra if they would have installed panels after Jan. 1.

 9. Empire State of Mind

A rendering of the 47-acre solar installation at Freshkills Park on Staten Island in New York. Photo credit: MikeBloomberg.com

The Long Island Power Authority voted to invest in 100 MW of new solar power on the island, which is enough to power 20,000 homes. Just weeks later, the utility announced new plans to move forward with an additional 280 MW of renewable energy, enough to power 80,000 homes. The investment represents the single largest investment in renewable energy in New York history. New York City also got in the act this week, announcing a 10 MW project at Staten Island's Freshkills Park, which was once known as the world's largest landfill.

10. Offshore Wind Coming to Maryland

For more than three years, activists in Maryland have fought to push their elected leaders to harness the state's most abundant natural resource: offshore wind. On March 12, after years of organizing, the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 reached final passage in the House of Delegates, securing the future for an offshore wind industry in Maryland that will provide clean energy for the state. The green icing on top came months later on the local level when Prince George's County Council voted to require renewable energy in all new and renovated governmental facilities.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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