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100% Renewable Energy in Virginia? It Is the First Southern State to Commit

Renewable Energy
100% Renewable Energy in Virginia? It Is the First Southern State to Commit
Gov. Ralph Northam delivers the State of the Commonwealth address at the Virginia State Capitol on Jan. 8, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

Virginia, which now has a Democrat as governor and Democrats in control of the statehouse, has followed the lead of several other blue states and committed itself to transition away from fossil fuels to a clean, renewable, carbon-free energy, as Vox reported. It makes Virginia the first state in the South to commit to 100 percent clean energy.


Last September, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order for the state to run on 100 percent renewable energy completely by 2050. His order forced several state agencies to create a plan for meeting that goal and for moving 30 percent of the state's power to renewable sources in the next decade, according to PBS. The order also brought Virginia into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine state carbon-trading market.

However, Republicans had control of the state house and prohibited Virginia from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Yet, in November, the balance of power shifted to Democrats. That led to last week's passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, as Vox reported.

Virginia now joins seven other states — California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Washington — along with Washington DC and Puerto Rico, which have passed similar legal requirements. More states, like Oregon, will have similar laws enacted soon.

The bill actually pushed Northam's mandate up five years for Dominion Energy, one of the state's two power companies. It will run on clean energy by 2045, at the latest. The other, Appalachian Power, will have to 2050 to transition.

The bill also calls for setting targets for massive investments in energy efficiency, energy storage and in-state solar and wind power, according to Green Tech Media. It also brings the state back into the RGGI carbon-trading network.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act will also hold costs down and protect low-income and vulnerable communities. It also requires the state's energy suppliers to boost power storage, increase their offshore wind energy generation and invest in rooftop solar panels, according to Vox.

"The cost of doing nothing is staggering," said State Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond, as the Virginia Mercury reported. "Yes, this is a big bill, but it does some very important things that Virginia is far, far behind in doing. … Sometimes change is necessary to meet a greater good."

While the bill faced criticism from Republicans who sounded the usual dog whistle of clean energy costing jobs and being expensive, it also faced Democratic defections, mainly from delegates who believed the bill isn't strong enough.

General Assembly Delegate Ibraheem Samirah of Fairfax did not cast a vote, saying in a statement that he abstained "because the legislation fails to rise to the level of urgency needed to tackle the climate crisis," according to the Virginia Mercury.

Unlike in Oregon, where Republicans fled the state to stop the state from establishing a cap-and-trade market, Virginia Republicans do not have the option of walking out and shutting down the legislature, as Vox reported.

Virginia has two major power suppliers, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power. The two hold enormous lobbying power and have resisted progress toward clean energy. However, a broad coalition sprouted up to support the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

As GreenBiz noted:

[A] broad coalition of clean energy businesses, environmental groups, grassroots groups and lawmakers came together to craft the bills, negotiate with the state's major utilities and shepherd them to final passage.
A number of businesses that are not tied to the energy sector also spoke up in support of these bills, helping state legislators understand that there is broad business support for decarbonizing the entire Virginia economy.

Furthermore, a study by Advanced Energy Economy concluded that the bill would lower rates, create jobs and boost the state's GDP. Advanced energy, especially efficiency, is a huge and growing source of employment in the state, according to an AEE analysis, as Vox reported.

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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