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Koch Brothers + 11 Other Special Interest Groups Wage War on Solar

Energy
Koch Brothers + 11 Other Special Interest Groups Wage War on Solar

The Koch brothers, Duke Energy and Arizona Public Service are among 12 special interest groups waging aggressive anti-solar campaigns across the country, often coordinated and behind the scenes, a new Environment America Research and Policy Center report said today. 

While American solar power has increased four-fold since 2010, state by state, utilities and powerful industry front groups have begun chipping away at key policies that helped spur this solar boom, according to the analysis, "Blocking the Sun: 12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power."

Fossil-fuel interests and their allies have been using the same playbook to undermine solar power across the country,” said Bret Fanshaw, the solar program coordinator for Environment America. “And they’ve largely been operating in the shadows.”

The playbook: a national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks provides funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns. The report examines five of these major national players—Edison Electric Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Koch brothers and their front group Americans for Prosperity, Heartland Institute and Consumer Energy Alliance.

Then, in state after state, electric utilities use the support provided by these national anti-solar interests, supplemented by their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies. The report features seven utilities—Arizona Public Service, Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Berkshire Hathaway Industries, Salt River Project, FirstEnergy and We Energies.

“We found that most attacks on solar energy happen behind closed doors in utility agencies or in dense regulatory filings—away from public view," said Gideon Weissman of the Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “That’s probably because they’re aimed at very popular policies that give regular consumers the chance to go solar.”

Charles and David Koch have an enormous financial stake in the fossil fuel industry through their company Koch Industries and its many subsidiaries. Koch Industries alone operates around 4,000 miles of pipeline, along with oil refineries in Alaska, Minnesota and Texas.

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Through its front group Americans for Prosperity and funding to other like-minded entities, the Koch brothers have attacked solar laws in several states including Florida, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.

Utilities like Arizona Public Service augment resources from interests like the Kochs to forward an anti-solar agenda. Arizona Public Service admitted to funding anti-solar ads by 60 plus, a national Koch-backed front group that purports to represent seniors and it has been accused of improper influence with the Arizona Corporation Commission.

“I’ve seen first-hand how some energy monopolies have used money in campaigns to intimidate and manipulate policy makers and elected officials,” said Rep. Ken Clark, a state representative from Arizona who has pushed Arizona Public Service to disclose its political spending. “Aside from the question of renewable energy, this activity has become a threat to our electoral system.”

Arizona Public Service’s latest stealth move against solar has been to withdraw its request to raise fees on solar owners until the commission completes a study that would only examine costs and not benefits, of the resource.

In Florida, where solar capacity is far beneath its potential, Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., have teamed up to block pro-solar policies. Duke Energy spent heavily to help re-elect Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned against a state renewable electricity standard. Americans for Prosperity has mobilized its members and waged an aggressive ad campaign against a ballot initiative to expand rooftop solar by allowing third-party sales of panels. Duke Energy has also contributed to that effort. 

The anti-solar coalition Consumers for Smart Solar, backed by Americans for Prosperity, Duke Energy and others, has now put forward a competing ballot measure in Florida to undermine the rooftop solar amendment.

“By wide margins, Americans support pro-solar policies,” said Fanshaw. “That’s why fossil fuel interests and their front groups have resorted to shady and deceptive tactics to undermine them. Ultimately it will be up to state leaders to reject these attacks and support a clean energy future.”

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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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