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Cuba is finally embracing solar power

Havana, Cuba
Shutterstock
Even Havana might one day get solar power.

Cuba has been slow to catch on to the clean energy trend, but it's now giving solar a go. The Communist nation's leaders know they need new energy options "after four failed attempts to strike it rich with deep-water oil drilling and the death of petro-benefactor Hugo Chavez," the AP reports.

The country's first solar power plant opened in the spring, and six more are in the works. More from AP:

The solar farm now generates enough electricity to power 780 homes and had saved the equivalent of 145 tons of fossil fuels, or around 1,060 barrels of crude, through the end of July. Peak capacity is expected to hit 2.6 megawatts when the final panels are in place in September.

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TransCanada plans colossal trans-Canada oil pipeline

canada-oil
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While the Obama administration dithers over whether to approve TransCanada's planned Keystone XL pipeline, the pipeline builder announced Thursday that it will pursue an even bigger project connecting Alberta's tar-sands oil fields with refineries in the nation's east.

The 2,700-mile, $12 billion Energy East Pipeline would carry 1.1 million barrels per day, making it more than a third larger than Keystone XL, which is intended to carry 800,000 bpd.

From Reuters:

The line, which still needs regulatory approval, could be in service by late 2017 for deliveries to Quebec and 2018 for New Brunswick, potentially reshaping the Atlantic Basin oil market and opening up new markets for Canadian crude.

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Former Republican EPA chiefs back Obama on climate change

elephant on a tightrope
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What do Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush have in common?

Yes, OK, obviously they were all Republican presidents. But now there's something else that ties them all together.

EPA administrators who worked for all of those presidents have come out in support of stronger actions on climate change, co-signing a powerful op-ed in The New York Times supporting Barack Obama's climate plan and arguing that "the United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change."

Here are some highlights from the op-ed, which was written by William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly, and Christine Todd Whitman:

The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes “locked in.”

A market-based approach, like a carbon tax, would be the best path to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but that is unachievable in the current political gridlock in Washington. Dealing with this political reality, President Obama’s June climate action plan lays out achievable actions that would deliver real progress. He will use his executive powers to require reductions in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the nation’s power plants and spur increased investment in clean energy technology, which is inarguably the path we must follow to ensure a strong economy along with a livable climate. ...

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Should we turn deserts into carbon-sucking tree plantations?

Jatropha curcas
ACICAFOC
A Barbados nut plantation.

To fight climate change, some scientists think we should vegetate the hell out of deserts. The latest such idea calls for large plantations of a hardy species of Central American tree to be planted in near-coastal desert areas and irrigated with desalinated water.

While forests soak up carbon dioxide, deserts do comparatively little to help with climate change. So should these seas of sand be planted and watered out of existence in a bid to reduce CO2 levels?

Some say yes. The approach would be like geoengineering, but rooted in a more natural system. Scientists call it bioengineering or carbon farming.

The idea of replacing deserts with forests to help the climate is not brand new. A few years ago, for example, scientists proposed planting eucalyptus trees through the Saharan and Australian deserts to help absorb carbon dioxide.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Alaska’s heat wave breaking records, killing salmon

A grizzly bear lapping up Alaska's warm summer.
Douglas Brown
A grizzly bear basks in the Alaskan sun.

Something smells fishy about a record-breaking heat wave in Alaska.

It might be the piles of dead salmon.

The Land of the Midnight Sun has been sweating, relatively speaking, through a hot and sun-soaked summer. From the AP:

Anchorage has set a record for the most consecutive days over 70 degrees during this unusually warm summer, while Fairbanks is closing in on its own seasonal heat record.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Offshore auction signals start of wind bonanza

Offshore wind turbines
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Coming soon, to a coastline near you ...

Wind developers have accepted invitations to the government’s New England offshore wind energy party.

There are currently no offshore wind farms in U.S. waters, but the Obama administration intends to change that. On Wednesday, the government auctioned off the right to construct turbines in nearly 165,000 acres of federal waters south of Massachusetts and Rhode Island -- the first of many offshore auctions the Interior Department has planned.

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BMW’s i3 electric car earns gushing praise

The BMW i3 electric sedan, officially unveiled this week, is getting rave reviews.

The car sells for as little as $41,350 -- not bad for a Bimmer, and that's before the $7,500 federal EV rebate. Those with range anxiety can drop a few grand more for a small backup gas-burning engine (or just take advantage of BMW's nifty SUV-sharing offer).

BMW i3
BMW
BMW i3

Here's some of what Wired has to say about the car, which weighs in at 2,700 pounds:

The reason the i3 is so svelte compared to other EVs is two-fold. First, it was designed to be an electric car from the beginning. Unlike BMW’s previous EV efforts — the Mini E (3,300 pounds, the same as a Nissan Leaf) and the BMW ActiveE (4,000 pounds) — they shaped the chassis and body around the motor and batteries to create a compact package with a low center of gravity. And then they got serious about weight savings.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Company to start slaughtering horses next week, despite arson and lawsuit

Horse
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Hey, horse, did you try to burn down that New Mexico slaughterhouse?

A New Mexico slaughterhouse plans to begin killing horses for meat on Monday -- despite a looming lawsuit and an apparent arson attack.

Refrigeration units at the Valley Meat Co. in Roswell., N.M., lit up in flames on Tuesday. Firefighters extinguished the blaze, but not before five compressors were damaged beyond repair. The company pledged to replace them in time to begin slaughtering horses and chilling their meat on Monday. From Albuquerque's KOB Eyewitness News 4:

Chaves County Sheriff’s Department said substances that could have been used to start the fire were found on the units and there is reason to believe it was arson. The owners are sure of it.

We're not endorsing arson. But this was the same meatpacking company whose worker shot a horse in the head on camera and said, “All you animal activists, fuck you.”

Perhaps an animal activist out there reciprocated the "fuck you" sentiment.

Read more: Food

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You get my drift? Pesticides cause big problems when they go where they’re not wanted

Crop duster
Shutterstock
Please be careful where you dump that toxic load.

Too many crop dusters are accidentally missing their targets and spraying poisonous pesticides where they're not supposed to go, killing crops and sickening farmers' neighbors.

Indiana Public Media reports that three-quarters of farm pesticide violations in the state involve what is euphemistically called "drift." That is, the chemicals don't land where they're intended to. From the report, which is the first in a three-part series on the problem:

[Farmer Brett] Middlesworth grows about 300 acres of tomatoes each year, but last summer he saw about a tenth of his yield damaged by a single instance of pesticide drift.

It happened halfway through the growing season. His neighbor was spraying a soybean field with Roundup herbicide. The wind picked up and carried the spray across the property line and onto Middlesworth’s tomatoes.

As Roundup targets broadleaf weeds, and tomatoes are broadleaf plants, the area closest to his neighbor was a total loss. ...

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$100 million worth of natural gas goes up in flames every month in North Dakota

Gas flaring.
Tim Evanson
Gas flaring in North Dakota.

Amidst an oil and gas drilling boom in North Dakota, a new report suggests that nearly a third of the natural gas that's being sucked out of the ground is being wasted -- burned on site and flared away.

The practice of flaring -- burning off natural gas instead of capturing and selling it -- is so rampant in the state that it is clearly visible from space. Reuters reports:

Remote well locations, combined with historically low natural gas prices and the extensive time needed to develop pipeline networks, have fueled the controversial practice, commonly known as flaring. While oil can be stored in tanks indefinitely after drilling, natural gas must be immediately piped to a processing facility.

Flaring has tripled in the past three years, according to the report from Ceres, a nonprofit group that tracks environmental records of public companies.