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Africa’s biggest wind farm starts spinning

Ethiopian flag on a lightbulb
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Ethiopia's infamous droughts don't just condemn the country to periodic famine; they also deprive it of electricity.

In a major step toward diversifying a power system that's almost entirely reliant on hydropower, the country has built Africa's largest wind farm. Power production started at the $290 million Ashegoda Wind Farm on Saturday, four years after construction began. From Reuters:

The 120 MW, 84-turbine farm -- straddling a sprawling field of grassland dotted by stone-brick hamlets more than 780 kilometers north of Addis Ababa -- is part of a plan to mitigate the impact of dry seasons on the country's dams.

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Hundreds of oil spills kept secret by North Dakota

Secrets
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Shhh ... oil spills are unpopular.

North Dakota's fracking frenzy is leaking like a sieve. And you haven't heard about it because fracking companies, oil pipeline owners, and state officials have been keeping information about hundreds of oil spills secret for years.

After a huge spill of more than 20,000 barrels on a wheat farm was hushed up for 11 days, the Associated Press discovered the extent of the years-long cover-up:

Records obtained by the AP show that so far this year, North Dakota has recorded 139 pipeline leaks that spilled a total of 735 barrels of oil. In 2012, there were 153 pipeline leaks that spilled 495 barrels of oil, data show. A little more than half of the spills companies reported to North Dakota occurred "on-site," where a well is connected to a pipeline, and most were fewer than 10 barrels. The remainder of the spills occurred along the state's labyrinth of pipelines.

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Scientists refuse to participate in silly Nebraska climate study

Nebraska
J. Stephen Conn
How might climate change affect farming in Nebraska? Don't expect a new state study to provide any useful answers.

Nebraska is looking for scientists to conduct a study into how climate change could affect the state, but climate scientists want nothing to do with it.

That's because the legislation calling for the study limits its scope to "cyclical" climate change, whatever that is. State Sen. Beau McCoy (R), a climate denier and gubernatorial candidate, inserted the word "cyclical" into the bill before it was passed and signed into law this past spring.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

University of Nebraska-Lincoln scientists at [a Wednesday] meeting said they wouldn't participate in the climate study if it excludes the influence of humans. Some said they wouldn't be willing to ask others to consider doing the study, either.

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Coal-plant owner offers to wash cars after spewing ash over city

car-wash
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This was not a good week to be a neighbor of the John Twitty Energy Center in Springfield, Mo. Unless, that is, all you care about is getting your car cleaned for free.

A piece of equipment at a coal-fired power plant failed on Tuesday, sending a cloud of burned coal residue with the consistency of talcum powder out over the city. Homes, yards, cars, and unfortunate pedestrians within two to three miles were left coated with fly ash.

"I headed outside and [my cars] were just covered," Springfield resident Bob Pasley told Ozarks First. “Neighbors' cars were covered and we were walking through the grass and dust was coming up like you just put limestone on your lawn."

City Utilities, which operates the plant, apologized and offered to pay to clean the cars of affected neighbors. “Our concern is on people's vehicles," spokesperson Joel Alexander said.

But what about all the lungs, plants, and ecosystems that were assaulted with stray bits of burned of coal? What does City Utilities propose doing about that? It's already done all that it plans to do: It has denied that there are any dangers.

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Federal solar auction flops in Colorado

San Luis Valley
Tee Poole
No one bid to build solar projects in the San Luis Valley this week.

Oh come on, solar industry. You know you want a piece of Colorado.

The rights to build solar projects on 3,705 acres of high-altitude, federally owned desert in Colorado were put up for bid on Thursday. But not a single bidder showed up.

The outcome was a disappointment for U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials. They were conducting the first of many planned solar auctions on public lands in the West.

The officials are describing the auction as a learning experience and say they will try again. The Denver Post reports:

Five companies had filed preliminary applications for the three San Luis Valley parcels, and there were another 27 inquires about the sites, according to Bureau of Land Management officials.

Based on that interest, officials scheduled an auction at the BLM Colorado office in Lakewood for the 3,700 acres of valley land.

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Barnacles are accidentally eating our plastic trash

Barnacles on a boot.
thaths
Gooseneck barnacles attached to a washed-up boot.

Barnacles in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are attaching themselves to trash and eating little plastic particles. Researchers don't yet know the implications of these findings, but it's a safe bet that they're not good.

American scientists inspected the gastrointestinal tracts of 385 gooseneck barnacles collected from the garbage patch, aka the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, and found microplastic in a third of them. Some specimens had a single piece of plastic in their stomach, while others had gobbled down as many as 30. Results of this research were published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ.

Miriam Goldstein of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography described her research in the blog Deep Sea News:

Gooseneck barnacles look kind of freaky. Like acorn barnacles (the ones that more commonly grow on docks), they’re essentially a little shrimp living upside down in a shell and eating with their feet. Unlike acorn barnacles, gooseneck barnacles have a long, muscular stalk. ...

Read more: Living

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India blocking efforts to save planet from climate-killing air conditioners

India flag
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Has India tossed out the Kama Sutra and come up with another way of screwing the world?

The country is getting in the way of international efforts to protect the climate by phasing out HFCs.

HFCs have become popular coolants since CFCs were phased out under the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 treaty to protect the ozone layer. Today, more than 100 million air conditioners use HFCs in the U.S. alone, and lots of fridges too. The switch from CFCs to HFCs helped save the ozone layer, but it turns out that HFCs are terrible for the climate. And as the ozone heals but the weather goes bonkers, world leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama to Chinese President Xi Jinping have been pledging to work together to stamp out the use of HFCs.

India's leaders have publicly voiced support for efforts to ban the use of HFCs by amending the Montreal Protocol. But when it came to crunch time during meetings in Bangkok this week, the nation's negotiators prevented formal discussion of making any such changes. From Bloomberg:

India is blocking an international plan to reduce the polluting gases used in air conditioners and refrigerators, saying negotiators are trying to use the wrong treaty to bring about changes.

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Russia drops Greenpeace piracy charges, alleges activists are hooligans

Soccer hooligans.
Shutterstock / katatonia82
Hooligans are known for lighting flares and brawling at soccer games. Protesting offshore drilling? Not so much.

A hooligan is a violent young troublemaker. That's what Russian prosecutors are now calling the Greenpeace activists and the journalists who approached and in some cases scaled Russia's first offshore Arctic oil platform last month, bringing worldwide attention to the country's drilling plans.

The good news is that the prosecutors have finally dropped piracy charges against the activists. Those piracy allegations could have landed them in jail for up to 15 years.

The bad news: Now they're all being charged with hooliganism, which could result in a maximum sentence of seven years.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Chicago makes it easier to put solar panels on roofs

Chicago
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More solar is on its way.

The Windy City is blowing red tape and roadblocks out of the way for new solar-panel owners.

It used to take a month to receive a city permit needed to install a small solar array. That's being reduced to one day. Meanwhile, the price of the permit is falling 25 percent to $275. These improvements are thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

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We could detect wildfires faster by using satellites

wildfire
Lou Angeli Digital

The Rim Fire, one of the biggest blazes in California's history, came to officials' attention only after somebody noticed a column of smoke.

At a time when satellite technology is so powerful and pervasive that you can check your gutters for leaf litter using Google Earth, why are we still relying on human eyes to detect wildfires?

That's what a team of researchers from California and Wisconsin would like to know. Writing in the journal Remote Sensing, they describe a satellite-based system they say could detect budding wildfires.

"The most serious conditions for California are the autumnal Santa Ana winds, which are persistent, clear, and very dry," the researchers write in their paper. "Under these conditions our proposed satellite detection and warning system might soon pay for itself in savings of lives, property, and fire-fighting costs."