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Crude conversation

Will we ever get off oil? [AUDIO]

There's been a lot of talk about oil this summer. Most of it bad. Devastating, record-setting leaks in the Gulf of Mexico and in Michigan's Kalamazoo River underscored, once again, the danger of our dependence on crude. Seductively efficient and still relatively cheap, oil provides nearly 40 percent of America's power. But it's also a finite resource that presents a very real threat to our environment, economy, security, and health. Given the growing risks and the shrinking reserves, there must be loads of people out there -- experts from government, corporations, academia, and the like -- hatching plans for a …

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Cash for Coal Clunkers

We should pay to shut down dirty old coal plants

A Cash for Coal Clunkers program is worth exploring.Too often, environmental policy turns into a game of whack-a-mole: solving one problem just makes another one pop up. Such a perverse game is currently playing out in the push to retrofit old coal plants with scrubbers for "criteria pollutants" such as sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and mercury. Although it is estimated that tightened regulation of these emissions will push about a sixth of the aging coal fleet into retirement, those plants that survive the gauntlet will be harder than ever to close after receiving expensive retrofits. Although the shiny new scrubbers …

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Still charging

California Legislature passes energy storage bill

The California Legislature has passed the nation's first energy storage bill, which could result in the state's utilities being required to bank a portion of the electricity they generate. Assembly Bill 2514 (AB 2514) now heads to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who has made climate change and green technology his political legacy as his final term winds down. Energy storage is considered crucial for the mass deployment of wind farms, solar power plants, and other sources of intermittent renewable energy, as well to build out the smart grid. On the West Coast, for instance, the wind tends …

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cheesing it

What do cream cheese, screws, and solar panels have in common?

OK, it's corny, but I had to smile last week, spreading Philadelphia brand cream cheese on a bagel while visiting Philadelphia (a common occurrence for residents of the City of Brotherly Love, no doubt, but not for a guy from Santa Monica). But what really caught my eye was the label that said the product was made with renewable energy. The Kraft "Philly" cream cheese website (www.creamcheese.com -- what else?!) explains that the company installed anaerobic digesters to convert waste from cheese making (whey) into methane gas, replacing about a third of the natural gas that would have been used …

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Fed Letter Day

Want a car that gets good grades? Buy a hybrid

The Ford F-150 pickup would receive a C grade under a new federal gas mileage rating system.Photo courtesy MSVG via FlickrThe federal government doesn't do simple -- which make its latest idea for rating auto fuel efficiency a thing of rare beauty. Simple beauty.  Hummer bummer: Here's how it would work: Cars get graded based on gas mileage. That's it. Electric cars get an A+. Hybrids, like the Prius, get an A-. A Ford F-150 pickup earns a C. And a gas pig like the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, a D. (The feds don't do Fs). Grades would be displayed in a big, …

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Sea to Shiny Sea

With drilling stalled in the Gulf, Big Oil sets its sights on the Arctic

Next on Big Oil’s hit list: the Arctic. Photo courtesy chrissy575 via FlickrSure, deepwater drilling is on hold in the Gulf of Mexico, but it's about to go into high gear in the Arctic.   You know the drill: Last week, the Scottish company Cairn Energy announced that it had found natural gas deposits off the coast of Greenland, and right away there was talk of a new oil rush. As much as 20 percent of Earth's untapped oil is thought to be in the Arctic, which is now more accessible than it's ever because -- Irony Alert! -- so much of the polar ice …

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My smart meter, my self

California's smart meter fears

Smart meters let you track real-time energy use.Photo: PG&E EnergyNo one said transforming the century-old power system into a state of-the-art digital smart grid was going to be easy. But California already is getting bogged down in a growing fight over installing smart utility meters in homes. The wireless devices are a linchpin in building the smart grid as they allow the two-way, real-time transfer of data about a home's power use. Utilities need that information to balance supply and demand on a power grid that will be increasingly supplied with intermittent sources of renewable energy while facing new demands …

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it's electric, boogie woogie woogie!

They Might Be Giants riding in electric cars [VIDEO]

As a general -- and generally very reliable -- rule, songs about environmental issues are cringeworthy. Plenty of bands and artists may walk the green talk, but they generally don't sing it. How refreshing, then, to hear the group They Might Be Giants geek out about clean tech vehicles in its catchy pop song for kids (and -- who are we kidding? -- the rest of us) by the name of "Electric Car." Not diesel, steam, or gasoline Let's take a ride in an electric car Happiness resides in an electric car You can even drive an electric car Won't …

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The eBay of solar

California moves to set up auction market for green energy

The sun is shining on California solar.Photo courtesy Ryan Jesena via FlickrIt's been a big week for Big Solar. On Wednesday, the California Energy Commission approved a license for the nation's first new large-scale solar thermal power plant in two decades. Over the next month, the energy commission is expected to green-light three more big solar farms to be built in the Mojave Desert. The projects would collectively generate nearly 2,000 megawatts of electricity. At peak output, that's the equivalent of a couple of large nuclear power plants. Less noticed but equally momentous were developments this week on the small-scale …

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doctor's alders

Swapping health care for people to get health care for forests

Could this be the cure for what’s ailing U.S. forests? Photo: Daniel Kulinski via Flickr If we want carbon-sequestering forests to be the picture of health, perhaps we've been barking up the wrong tree. About 60 percent of U.S. forest land is privately owned -- and often by people who like to keep it in the family. But when towering medical costs fall in those woods, the timber owners hear it loud and clear -- and are then more likely to swallow the bitter pill of selling off the family land to pay the bills. This news came out of …