Victims of Coal Ash Contamination Demand Access to Solar at Duke Energy's Shareholder Meeting
People from North Carolina communities impacted by coal ash joined allies today to demand access to solar and a transition away from dirty coal. Both inside and outside of Duke Energy’s annual shareholder meeting, teachers, faith groups, business leaders, NGOs and residential customers pressed the company to stop dumping toxic coal ash into vulnerable communities, while blocking access to affordable solar that would benefit them in a variety of ways. As the meeting began, community members took their message inside and protested Duke by calling on the company to stop blocking solar energy.
“Duke Energy is destroying my community, my air and water with its toxic coal ash, and has the audacity to simultaneously block access to the clean solar energy that people want and need,” said Michael Carroway, who spoke at a press conference outside the meeting about the impacts of Duke’s coal ash on his hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina. “Duke has worked hard to misinform my community about solar, but the truth is it’s cleaner and cheaper for everyone. It benefits our health and environment and minimizes the need for more dirty power plants and rate hikes.”
The rally and protest at Duke headquarters were part of a series of actions around Duke Energy’s annual shareholder meeting to send a strong message to the monopoly utility that blocking access to solar, while communities suffer the impacts of toxic coal ash dumping, will not be tolerated in North Carolina or the other states the company serves. On Tuesday, Greenpeace NC flew its Earth-shaped hot air balloon with banners that read: “Duke don’t block solar” and “Solar works for all.”
On the ground below, community members also spelled out “Duke: we want access to solar” in giant white letters. Leading into this week, “clean graffiti” (a clean message on a dirty sidewalk) with an #IStand4Solar message was implemented in strategic locations throughout Charlotte.
“Duke Energy cares about its statewide monopoly and large profits over the people that it serves,” said Danielle Hilton, an organizer with Moms Clean Air Force from Charlotte who spoke at the press conference. “It’s clear that the reason the company is blocking access to clean solar energy is to maintain its stranglehold on the energy market here. Unfortunately, the rest of us suffer for it in the form of rate hikes, coal ash spills and polluted air, which harms our health and the climate."
Duke has actively lobbied the North Carolina state legislature in an attempt to defeat HB 245, the bipartisan Energy Freedom Act, which would open up North Carolina electricity markets to third party sales, meaning companies could offer businesses, schools and residential customers options for no money down solar. Duke opposes the bill because it could mean fewer customers and profits for them, jeopardizing their fossil fuel-based monopoly in the state.
“I think it's important that more people are able to use solar energy because it will mean a healthier world for me and for my children and my children's children,” said 8-year-old Abigail Driscoll from Charlotte who spoke at the press conference. “I hope that Duke Energy remembers that the decisions they make affect me and my family, now and in the future."
— Kristen Hampton WBTV (@KHamptonWBTV) May 7, 2015
Duke has lobbied against beneficial solar policies in other states as well. Their plan is to limit solar choice via third party energy sales; weaken net metering, or the amount of money solar rooftop customers are credited for adding power back to the grid; and work with allies like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch brothers to gut renewable energy policies and incentives. In Florida, according to a Florida Center for Investigative Reporting story, Duke and other utility companies have spent $12 million on political campaigns for state lawmakers since 2010—directly influencing the expansion of distributed rooftop solar in the state. In Indiana, Duke has used its cozy relationship with regulators and representatives to try to push anti-solar policies, including adding a fee for net metering customers, in an effort to maintain monopoly control in the state.
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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.
"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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