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Texas Town Says No to Fossil Fuels, Yes to 100% Renewables

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Texas Town Says No to Fossil Fuels, Yes to 100% Renewables

Texas' image as the king of oil states clings to it through repeated boom and bust cycles. Its politicians tend to be close friends of the fossil fuel industry. So people don't think of it as the leading U.S. state for renewable energy—even though it is. It's the top producer of wind energy in the U.S.

Texas' wide open spaces have proved ideal for wind power generation, and Texas is the country's number one wind state.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

One city in Texas aims to be the first to power itself entirely on renewables. Georgetown, Texas, 30 miles north of Austin in central Texas, has announced its intention to be all-renewable by 2017. The city of 50,000 has signed a deal with SunEdison to supply it with solar power for the next 25 years. It comes on the heels of a a deal the city made last year to source electricity from a wind farm currently under construction 50 miles west of Amarillo that will start to provide power next year. The two deals—for 150 megawatts of solar and 144 megawatts of wind—will make Georgetown Utility Services one of the largest municipally owned utilities in the U.S. to get all its electricity from renewables.

“Georgetown Utility Services isn’t required to buy solar or other renewables—we did so because it will save on electricity costs and decrease our water usage," said Georgetown's interim city manager and general manager of utilities Jim Briggs. "When Georgetown Utility Systems opted to seek new sources of power in 2012, we were charged with a mission to secure the most cost-effective energy that balanced risk and reward. Our team took advantage of a unique time in the market place and did just that. By securing these renewable contracts the utility can consider itself 100 percent ‘green,’ but it does so at extremely competitive costs for energy, and it hedges against future fuel and regulatory risks, fulfilling our initial goal.”

The city says that the combination of solar and wind will provide energy from complementary renewable sources to meet demand patterns. Solar's afternoon supply peak matches the daily energy demand peak in Georgetown, particularly during hot summer months. Wind power production in the Amarillo area is generally highest in the evening or early-morning hours, providing power when the sun isn't shining. And wind and solar generation requires no water, an important consideration in the drought-stricken state.

“SunEdison is very excited to be working with Georgetown Utility Systems to provide their customers with 100 percent renewable, clean energy,” said Paul Gaynor, executive vice president of SunEdison's North America Utility and Global Wind division. “Georgetown is an exceptional city, and by going 100 percent renewable they cut down on pollution, save water and enjoy stable energy prices. They’re able to accomplish all of this without spending a penny upfront with the SunEdison power purchase agreement. Georgetown is a model for other cities that hope to become powered by clean renewable energy.”

Despite Texas' position on the leading edge of renewable energy generation, the oil mentality dies hard in Texas, especially now that the fracking boom has given the state a new source of fossil fuels. State Sen. Troy Fraser from Horseshoe Bay, Texas, about a hour west of Georgetown, has proposed ending the state's renewable energy standard, saying that renewables are doing so well it's no longer necessary.

“We have done what we intended to accomplish,” he said at a hearing this week. "Not only did we roar past the goal we had in place, we have more than doubled that goal."

But Cyrus Reed of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter warned, "Even though the Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goal has been met, these renewable energy credits are still part of project economics, both complete and under construction, and eliminating the RPS would hurt current investors and risk weakening additional investment in Texas. In other words, if these RPS-based renewable energy credits were eliminated, their value would plummet and revenue would be lost, which would be unfair to developers and their investors who have invested their money with the expectation the RPS would be carried out through 2025."

He also warned that if the RPS was repealed, it would cost Texas more to comply with the carbon reduction goals of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.

The rollback attempt, part of a nationwide effort to kill renewable energy standards, is bankrolled by fossil fuel-friendly organizations. West Virginia became the second state to do so in February, following Ohio's rollback last June. A Pew Charitable Trusts report found that Ohio's rollback has already cost the state jobs and investment money.

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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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