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Wind Power Brings This Ohio Farmer to Tears

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By Greg Alvarez

Ohio lawmakers are currently considering a measure that could transform the state's rural communities, and last week they heard powerful testimony from those who will be directly impacted.


Fixing Ohio's wind turbine setbacks

Let's go back to 2014. That year, the state legislature adopted onerous wind energy setbacks, without accepting public comment or having any public debate, before adopting them. The new regulations were among the country's strictest siting requirements and have essentially functioned as a wind energy ban ever since.

Ohio has only three utility-scale wind farms, despite high energy demand and adequate wind resources. To get a sense of how the current setbacks have affected the state's wind development, look to its neighbors:

This means Ohio's rural communities have missed out on millions of dollars in lease payments and added tax revenue, not to mention billions in project investments.

To help state lawmakers understand exactly what's at stake, Gary Baldosser, a fourth-generation farmer who raises corn, soybeans and wheat, testified before a panel last week. A wind farm has been proposed in Baldosser's town but has yet to be built because of Ohio's unnecessary setback requirements. Watch the video above to learn what the wind farm would mean for his family.

Putting a number on the benefits of Ohio setback reform

Baldosser's story isn't unique. John Hensley, American Wind Energy Association's deputy director of industry and data analysis, also offered testimony last week to quantify the benefits of fixing Ohio's setbacks. Here are some highlights:

For years, Ohio has largely missed out on economic development opportunities from the U.S. wind industry. Currently, Ohio contains just three utility-scale wind projects, significantly less than neighboring states. As a result, Ohio wind projects represent just $1.1 billion of capital investments, significantly lagging neighboring states. In comparison, the U.S. wind industry has invested three times as much in Michigan and Pennsylvania, four times as much in Indiana, and eight times as much in Illinois.

Based on Ohio siting applications and company records, developers have plans to build over 3,300 MW of new wind projects in the state. If built, these projects are estimated to provide over $4.2 billion in local economic activity over their life, including capital investment, operational expenditures, tax payments, and lease payments to landowners. And that does not account for the induced benefits resulting from wind project developers staying in hotels, eating at restaurant, buying fuel, going to the movies, or whatever else they may do while designing, building, and working at the project.

Despite the economic potential of these wind projects, most are at risk of not being built due to the siting requirements in the state.

Economic modeling based on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model and empirical data relating to Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements for existing wind projects shows that the current pipeline of projects proposed in Ohio would generate $4.2 billion in local economic activity. This includes: $2 billion in local capital investment; over $1 billion in lifetime operational expenditures in the state; $660 million in PILOT payments to local schools and governments; over $440 million in land lease payments to landowners; and the need for 13,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs.

Aside from the potential economic loss directly from wind projects, the lack of wind power development is impeding Ohio's ability to compete for new businesses. Large companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple are constantly looking to expand their existing facilities, while meeting their ambitious clean energy requirements. By constraining wind energy development, Ohio risks losing major business investment to nearby states that are embracing clean, local sources of energy. For example, in 2015, Facebook chose Texas over Ohio to host a billion dollar data center, citing the inability to secure renewable energy for the facility.

Changing Ohio's setbacks will bring new opportunities for prosperity to rural communities throughout the state. We know this because the vision Baldosser shared in his testimony has already become a reality in the few towns where wind development has been allowed to occur. For example, consider the case of Van Wert County:

Ohio lawmakers should ensure more of their constituents have more of these opportunities, not less of them. Now they have the chance to do that by correcting a mistake made back in 2014. Ohio should reset the wind turbine property line setback requirements to 1.1 times the height of the turbine from base to vertical blade tip. Doing so will unlock billions of economic benefits for the Buckeye state.

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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