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Outdoors

Dear EarthTalk:

I’ve heard that the price of getting solar panels installed on a home is lower than ever, but has it gotten to the point anywhere in the U.S. where it’s actually cheaper than traditional grid power yet? – Lester Milstein, Boston, Mass.

Rooftop solar panels have always been the province of well-to-do, eco-friendly folks willing to shell out extra bucks to be green, but that is all starting to change. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the cost of putting solar panels on a typical American house has fallen by some 70 percent over the last decade and a half. And a recent report from Deutsche Bank shows that solar has already achieved socalled “price parity” with fossil fuel-based grid power in 10 U.S. states. Deutsche Bank goes on to say that solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity- bill prices in all but three states by 2016—assuming, that is, that the federal government maintains the 30 percent solar investment tax credit it currently offers homeowners on installation and equipment costs.

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On Saturday, Jan. 3, 29 citizen-scientists showed up in rainy weather to count birds. It was Franklin’s third annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), sponsored by the Franklin Bird Club.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began 115 years ago. The count was in response to the popular holiday activity of seeing how many birds a person could shoot in one day. Beginning on Christmas in 1900, birder Frank Chapman proposed a new tradition of counting birds rather than hunting them. Today, birds are counted by thousands of birding enthusiasts throughout the Americas. According to the Audubon Society, “Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action.”

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With the new year, came new rains across Western North Carolina. Steady rainfall throughout Macon County last week added inches to the local rivers and lakes. As rainfall amounts began to stack up, the swiftness of local streams increased, providing a beautiful sight for those traveling between Franklin and Highlands.

Both Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls were visions with cascading waters pouring over their cliffs. Despite a few days of frigid rain, the beauty that resulted in Macon County's natural landmarks made the grey skies a little easier to brave.

 

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After an immensely rainy year in 2013, Grandfather Mountain rainfall rebounded to below-normal precipitation levels in 2014, according to weather data collected at the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

The mountain recorded 50.62 inches of precipitation in 2014, including 8.27 inches in July, the rainiest month.

That was about 20 percent below the mountain's 59-year average annual rainfall, 64.49 inches, and nearly 60 percent lower than last year's whopping 85.95 inches.

The mountain's one-day rain record still stands at 11.3 inches on Sept. 8, 2004.

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