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First Potential Offshore Wind Farm in U.S. Survives Koch-backed Lawsuit, But Faces Another

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First Potential Offshore Wind Farm in U.S. Survives Koch-backed Lawsuit, But Faces Another

It's been an active week in court for what could eventually be the nation's first offshore wind farm.

First, the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit upheld the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) approval of a wind farm to be constructed off the shores of Cape Cod. The FAA in 2012 approved the $2.6 billion Cape Wind farm, ruling that it would not present a hazard to air traffic.

Wednesday's decision marked the 12th victory for developers Cape Wind and NSTAR against opponents in court.

The farm's biggest rivals are The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound and a group of residents from Barnstable, MA. Billionaire Bill Koch—who once referred to the project as "visual pollution"—told Commonwealth Magazine last year that he has given $5 million to the Alliance as part of a strategy to delay Cape Wind.

An artist’s rendering of the Cape Wind Farm and a boat tour of the farm. Photo credit: Cape Wind

“The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the Town of Barnstable and their financial backer—coal billionaire Bill Koch—have failed yet again in their continuing campaign to use the courts to delay the financing of Cape Wind,” Cape Wind Communications Director Mark Rodgers said. “The court’s definitive decision is an important legal victory that brings America that much closer to launching its offshore wind industry, a keystone in America’s renewable energy future.”

However, officials at Cape Wind and NSTAR knew they were faced with yet another Koch-backed lawsuit before they celebrated Wednesday's decision. According to The Associated Press, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Barnstable and several Cape Cod businesses filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against project developers and Massachusetts regulators alleging that the state discriminated against out-of-state power companies by brokering the deal between utility NSTAR and Cape Wind. The plaintiffs say that deal will drive up electricity costs.

Cape Wind is slated to host 130 turbines for a potential output of 468 megawatts (MW). That amount is enough to power 75 percent of Cape Cod and the Islands.

Cape Wind reached power purchase agreements with National Grid and NSTAR between 2010 and 2012. The lawsuit alleges that state regulators violated the Federal Power Act and Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by setting wholesale rates for the contracts. That act is typically reserved for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Rodgers said the complaint was "frivolous and without merit."

“We understand the need for green sources of energy, but it is unfair to be forced to pay three times the cost of other green energy for Cape Wind,” Joe Keller, an Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound fundraiser and real estate broker whose company is listed on the lawsuit, said in a statement from the Alliance.

During the 2008 election, 87 percent of the voters in 11 towns voiced approval of the project. However, Keller told a very different story in a 2013 Letter to the Editor of Commonwealth, saying wind turbines would negatively impact the quality of life and real estate values. 

"Ten years ago, I told my wife, Devonia, that if Cape Wind gets built, it signals the end of the dream of Cape Cod living which originally brought us here," Keller wrote. "We feel very strongly that, although alternative energy is hugely important, this is the wrong place for it!

"When we stand on the tee of hole 15 at Hyannisport or pull out of Osterville Harbor on a beautiful day, the last vision we will want to see and hear are 130 turbine towers."

A joint report released Jan. 9 by the University of Connecticut and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory states that the entities found "no evidence that wind turbines affect property values." They used Massachusetts as the subject of the study.

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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