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Chevy Volt gets prettied up, almost ready for testing

The design phase of the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt is "essentially finished," General Motors declared Thursday. The new design is more aerodynamic than the concept Volt unveiled in Jan. 2007, allowing the car to travel solely on battery power for at least 40 miles, according to GM. The automaker hopes to have a few prototypes ready for testing within the next 10 days, and 50 available by the end of the year. But the 37,333 (and counting) people who have signed up to an unofficial waiting list for the Volt will still have to wait two years, as GM continues …

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Ginormous solar plants to be built in California

Two gigantic solar plants will be built in California under deals announced Thursday between utility Pacific Gas & Electric and companies OptiSolar and Sun Power. Together, the plants could generate 800 megawatts of electricity at peak capacity, enough to power 239,000 homes. (Perspective: The total peak capacity of every photovoltaic panel in the U.S. as of last year was 750 MW.) The largest plant will cover nine square miles with solar panels, but it will be "very visually unobtrusive," says OptiSolar CEO Randy Goldstein; with panels only three feet high, "It almost looks like a lake." Both plants aim to …

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Superweeds: ready for Roundup

In Arkansas, a new GMO/herbicide solution to a problem created by an old one

I've written a couple of times about the rise "superweeds" in the Southeast and mid-South. In Arkansas, horseweed and Palmer amaranth now choke fields planted with Monsanto's Roundup Ready cotton and soy -- engineered to withstand heavy doses of Roundup, Monsanto's broad-spectrum herbicide. Fifteen years ago, horseweed and amaranth weren't problem weeds. </p Back in March, Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service officials were pushing farmers to supplement their Roundup applications with doses of Reflex, a broad-spectrum herbicide made by Monsanto's rival, Syngenta. Now the agribiz-friendly extension service is hotly promoting the wares of another Monsanto rival, Bayer Crop Sciences, Delta Farm …

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Americans drive less, use less gas, buy fewer cars

Americans are driving less, burning less gasoline, and buying fewer cars, and the feds have the stats to prove it. New numbers show that Americans drove 4.7 percent less in June 2008 than they did in June 2007, shaving off some 12.2 billion miles. For those keeping track at home, that makes a total 53.2 billion fewer miles driven between Nov. 2007 and June 2008 than in that eight-month period a year earlier. As would be expected, gasoline and diesel use have also fallen: In the first three months of 2008, Americans burned 400 million fewer gallons of gas than …

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Post-Carbon County, video

Clean energy comes to the coalfields

The name says it all. Carbon County, Pennsylvania is a county of 58,000 located in the heart of the Keystone State's famed anthracite coalfields. The county was famous not just for its coal, but also the notorious Molly Maguires that exemplified the kind of organized violence between workers and bosses that marked 19th century American industrialism. Pennsylvania is also the state that launched the petroleum industry, with the sinking of the Drake Well in Titusville (on the opposite end of the state from Carbon County) in 1859. But times, they are a changin'. Carbon County, in a poetic turn, is …

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Solar discord

The New York Times blows the solar PV story

It would seem like an easy story for the paper of discord record: In recent months, chains including Wal-Mart Stores, Kohl's, Safeway and Whole Foods Market have installed solar panels on roofs of their stores to generate electricity on a large scale ... In the coming months, 85 Kohl's stores will get solar panels; 43 already have them. "We want to keep pushing as many as we possibly can," said Ken Bonning, executive vice president for logistics at Kohl's. Macy's, which has solar panels atop 18 stores, plans to install them on another 40 by the end of this year. …

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Umbra on eco-conversions

Dear Umbra, In all sorts of corporate environmental reports, you see claims that compare apples to oranges -- "By reducing our emissions by X pounds this year, we've saved the equivalent of 17 gazillion trees." Or "If every person in the U.S. bought our eco-friendly product, we could save all the baby harp seals." OK, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit. But where do people come up with these eco-unit conversions? I'm making a presentation to our board of directors and I wanted to use a similar easy-to-visualize comparison of our annual energy use. I've Googled to no avail. Can …

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Notable quotable

Annals of demand response

"Fleet plans are made months and months in advance. We're going to work to get our fleet more in line with what consumers are demanding. But the shift is so quick and revolutionary that we weren't able to respond quickly." -- Chris Payne, spokesman for rental agency Dollar Thrifty Automotive, commenting on the sudden surge in demand for fuel-efficient rentals

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U.S. economy shifting to — gasp! — efficiency

When it comes to urging environment-mindedness, high oil prices have proven much more persuasive than green groups ever did. The U.S. economy, built on cheap, plentiful energy, is shifting into a new mode. Americans are driving less, riding transit more, ditching SUVs, and moving back into city centers. We're seeking energy efficiency in our appliances and our heating, cooling, and lighting. Solar energy is having its day in the sun. Companies are rethinking their global supply chains, and consumers too are seeing the benefits of staying close to home. "The environmentalists have always asked you to eat locally," says economist …

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Meat Wagon: Whole Foods edition

The natural foods giant stumbles into an E. coli outbreak

In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat industry. Suddenly, Whole Foods can't get a break. Its share price has plunged about 70 percent since the end of 2005. Its marketing execs are scrambling to shed the company's reputation for premium-priced offerings -- a market position they once reveled in. The natural foods titan used to wow Wall Street with seemingly endless announcements of new-store openings. Now it's scaling back expansion plans. Amid these ill tidings comes news that Whole Foods is embroiled in an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak. The Washington Post reports that seven people …