From Steel City to Sun City: Colorado Town Turns to Clean Energy
By Laura A. Shepard
Working-class homeowners in Pueblo, Colorado have struggled to keep up with their sky-high electric bills. Locals said rampant shutoffs have plunged entire city blocks into darkness and sent power-starved families to motels and homeless shelters. Senior citizens have given up television and unscrewed refrigerator lights in an attempt to save money. And local businesses have grappled with electric bills as high as their rents.
Frustrated by bloated power bills and frequent shutoffs, citizens of Pueblo have lobbied the city council to abandon natural gas and switch to more affordable renewable energy.
By organizing concerned citizens and packing town halls, Pueblo's Energy Future managed to push the city council to pass a resolution committing to generate 100 percent of the city's power from renewables by 2035. Based on the cost of electricity from utility-scale wind farms in the region, ratepayers could save money by switching to clean energy.
"When people lose their electricity, they lose their houses," said Anne Stattelman, director of Posada, an organization providing housing to homeless families in Pueblo County. Pueblo is one of Colorado's poorest cities but has one of the highest electricity rates in the state, she said.
Power costs are higher in Pueblo than elsewhere in Colorado. Pueblo's Energy Future
It's often taken for granted, but nearly every facet of modern life depends on electricity. When the power goes off, refrigerators full of food go to waste. Children cannot take hot showers or do their homework. Parents have to choose between dinner, medicine or keeping the lights on.
Stattelman recalled one woman, who, after losing power, came to a shelter with a child in need of 24-hour care. The local utility, Black Hills Energy, charged a $400 reconnection fee.
Black Hills acquired the region's previous utility company in 2008 and received authorization for a new $72 million gas-fired power plant. The company raised rates to cover the costs and installed smart meters in low-income neighborhoods, a move that makes it easier to shut off power remotely. In 2015, the utility disconnected more than 6,000 households in Pueblo, a city of roughly 43,000 households.
"Most people that live here, have lived here for a while and they see how the rate hike has affected them," said Rebecca Vigil, the community coordinator for Pueblo's Energy Future, an organization dedicated to advancing clean energy in Pueblo.
"I've seen how this has affected my city," Vigil said. "For the past six to eight years, there's been a definite blight."
National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
Now, citizens are urging the city to exit its agreement with Black Hills Energy in 2020. They want to form a municipal electric utility, putting the city in charge of power generation. A municipal utility can purchase electricity on the open market or generate its own. Pueblo would not be required to purchase the natural gas plant from Black Hills Energy.
"We want the community to come together and feel comfortable saying what they want and expect from their utility," Vigil said. "They want a secure, clean, affordable and just energy future for Pueblo."
"Renewables are consistent. They don't have the same volatility, so people can plan," said Stattelman, who wants the city to move to renewable power, both to lower bills and create jobs.
Pueblo, known to locals as the "Pittsburgh of the West," has lost thousands of steel jobs in recent decades. Now Vestas, one of the largest wind turbine manufacturers in the country, operates a plant in Pueblo that employs 600 people. Rooftop solar installations could add even more jobs while taking advantage the region's consistently sunny weather—Colorado enjoys more sunshine than all but a few states.
"We don't want to be known as steel city," Stattelman said, "We want to be sun city."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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