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New Bill Could Kill Indiana's Rooftop Solar Sector

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New Bill Could Kill Indiana's Rooftop Solar Sector

Lawmakers in Indiana have introduced a new measure that could wipe out the state's net metering system within a decade and squash the state's burgeoning solar energy sector.

For the past 12 years, Indiana's net metering policy has credited homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar systems for the excess power their panels generate and send to the grid. However, Senate Bill 309 (SB309), authored by Republican State Senator Brandt Hershman, aims to eliminate this scheme by 2027 and replace it with a controversial "sell all, buy all" system.

Under this proposed bill, rooftop solar owners would be forced to sell their electricity to the utility at a lower rate and buy it back at a higher rate. According to PV-Tech, solar consumers would have to sell their energy to the utility at wholesale rate of around US$0.03/kWh and then buy it back at the higher retail rate of around US$0.11/kWh. Apparently, the balance goes towards the utility's expenses for maintaining the grid.

"Mandatory 'buy-all/sell-all' approaches greatly infringe on customers' energy independence and this bill should be cause for great alarm for consumers in the state of Indiana," Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), told EcoWatch.

"Rooftop solar power that is exported from customers' homes or businesses to the grid is quickly absorbed by neighboring homes and businesses. Compensating that local power at average wholesale prices significantly undervalues the benefits of producing that power—such as avoiding the need to build new power lines—and ignores the fact that solar power is produced during daytime peak periods when wholesale energy prices are higher," Gallagher added. "Whether it's installing energy efficiency measures or consuming on-site generation, customers should always receive the full retail price value for behind-the-meter choices that reduce grid-supplied energy consumption, resulting in benefits for the entire community."

Laura Arnold, president of the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance, explained to Midwest Energy News, that the measure is akin to confiscating private property.

"It's like saying, 'Yeah, you can have your solar panels but you really don't own them because you can't decide what to do with the electricity you're producing yourself,'" Arnold said.

While the bill aims to stop net metering in 10 years, as the Indiana Business Journal noted, the state could put an end to it even earlier:

Language in the measure stipulates that net metering would end no later than July 2027—which supporters say gives the solar industry plenty of time to adjust.

But it could happen sooner. According to current rules, a utility such as Indianapolis Power & Light Co. doesn't have to offer net metering to customers once it reaches a cap of providing net metering equal to 1 percent of its summer peak generation.

PV-Tech says the bill "has not yet been seen in other states and is a unique approach from the Indianan legislators."

Opponents of the bill say it would discourage homeowners and businesses from investing in solar systems, which can be costly to install.

"One of the fundamental reasons people put solar panels on their roofs is to reduce consumption from the grid—to be self-reliant, sustainable, efficient," Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition, told Indiana Business Journal. "That should be encouraged to the highest degree."

Additionally, the bill could have ramifications for Indiana's nascent solar sector. More than 72 solar companies operate in the state and employs about 1,567 people.

Incidentally, renewable energy is poised for massive growth in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced in a report that U.S. solar employs more workers than any other energy industry, including coal, oil and natural gas combined.

"SB 309's anti-American limitations on how consumers can use their own rooftops could significantly undermine the state's clean energy progress and, in turn, the well-paying jobs that solar now provides the state of Indiana," Gallagher said.

But critics of net metering contend that solar customers are not paying their fair share for use of the grid.

"Net metering creates a situation where customers with solar panels are being paid by customers without solar panels," Mark Maassel, president of the Indiana Energy Association, told Indiana Business Journal. "That's just not fair."

The legislation is set for a hearing before the Senate Utilities Committee on Feb. 2.

Indiana's net metering system actually survived an attack two years ago. In 2015, state representative Eric Koch (no relation to the Charles and David Koch) introduced a bill that would have reduced net metering payments and added fees to solar customers. That bill failed to advance.

So-called " solar wars" are waging in several states such as Nevada, Florida and Arizona. Reports have emerged of billionaire oil barons Charles and David Koch and their political allies trying to kill net metering as they see growth in renewable energy as a threat to their businesses.

Hershman, the state senator who introduced the bill, has not commented to media about the measure.

An April 2016 report from the Center for Biological Diversity determined that Indiana was among the top 10 sunniest states in the country actively blocking rooftop solar development through overtly lacking and destructive policy landscapes.

Indiana, along with Alabama, Florida, Georgia,, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, account for more than 35 percent of the total rooftop-solar technical potential in the contiguous U.S., but only 6 percent of total installed capacity.

"Thanks to weak and nonexistent policies, the distributed-solar markets in these states have never been given a chance to shine," said Greer Ryan, sustainability research associate with the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the report. "There's room for improvement in solar policies across all 50 states, but it's especially shameful to see the sunniest states fail to lead the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy."

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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