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Koch Brothers Continue War on Solar in Sunshine State

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Koch Brothers Continue War on Solar in Sunshine State

With its nickname being “The Sunshine State,” it would make sense for Florida to lead in solar energy in the U.S. But industry opposition and a climate change-denying governor have allowed the state to fall dangerously behind when it comes to harnessing the power of the sun.

The low solar production in Florida has less to do with energy costs, and everything to do with the influence of the dirty energy industry. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Today, solar energy only accounts for 2 percent of the total energy production in Florida, and industry analysts believe that the poor solar production is likely because the state’s average energy costs are about 30 percent below the national average, diminishing the demand for a cheaper, cleaner energy source.

But when you dig past the industry’s talking points and excuses, you’ll find something much more sinister at work.

The low solar production in Florida has less to do with energy costs and everything to do with the influence of the dirty energy industry.

According to existing Florida laws, which are unfairly skewed in favor of electric utilities, consumers are limited in their abilities to install solar panels on their own homes due to the restriction of solar panel equipment leasing in the state. In short, consumers in Florida are legally not allowed to purchase electricity from anyone other than a utility company.

Additionally, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican legislature have gutted the state’s clean energy programs and eliminated Florida’s renewable energy goals.

Again, it all comes down to money.

Since 2010, the dirty energy industry has poured $12 million and initiatives, including a $1.1 million gift to Gov. Scott. Every single member in the legislature has taken money from the fossil fuel industry, with the 16 leaders averaging about $200,000 apiece. Some of the top donors were Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Koch Industries.

Koch Brothers' Anti-Solar Campaign in Florida

It should come as absolutely no surprise that the Koch brothers are leading the efforts to stifle solar energy in Florida.

When citizens in the state gathered the necessary signatures to get an initiative on the ballot that would repeal Florida’s anti-consumer solar restrictions, the Koch brothers sprang into action to make sure that this initiative was dead on arrival.

According to a report by PR Watch, the Kochs created a new astroturf group, Consumers for Smart Solar, that is working to create a counter-initiative that would actually prohibit consumers and businesses from contracting with solar companies that install solar equipment without charging an upfront fee—the only way that most Florida citizens would be able to afford solar energy.

This ballot initiative is supported by the Florida state government, as Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi is very vocal in her opposition to the citizens’ amendment due to her strong support for the dirty energy industry.

The Kochs and other industry interests were dealt a major blow last week when the Florida Supreme Court approved the Solar Choice Amendment to appear on the 2016 ballot.

Also working against the industry is the fact that 2016 is an election year, meaning Democratic voter turnout will be at an all time high, giving the initiative a very good chance at succeeding.

But even if the Florida fight goes in favor of consumers, the Koch brothers are also fighting against the solar industry in Arizona, Ohio and Kansas.

Again, these are likely to ultimately prove losing battles for the brothers, as 74 percent of American citizens believe that a portion of all electricity generated in the U.S. should come from clean, renewable sources.

The Kochs might wield a lot of power, but they don’t have enough money to fight the will of the 74 percent, or 235 million, Americans.

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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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