Skip to content Skip to site navigation
Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Ghana will soon be home to the largest solar farm in Africa

The marker on this map shows the location of Aiwiaso, Ghana, a town small enough that one could count the number of buildings within it in short order. And, if all goes according to plan, it will in 2015 be the location of the fourth-largest solar photovoltaic plant in the world and the largest in Africa.

From The Guardian:

Blue Energy, the renewable energy developer behind the $400m project, which has built a solar farm 31 times smaller outside Swindon, [England,] said the 155MW solar photovoltaic (PV) plant will be fully operational by October 2015. Construction on the Nzema project is due to begin near the village of Aiwiaso in western Ghana by the end of 2013, with the installation of some 630,000 PV modules. …

The company said it expects to create 200 permanent jobs and 500 during the construction phase, which already has the go-ahead from planning authorities.


Scot who stood up to Trump development deservedly named ‘Top Scot’

Earlier this year, a film was released documenting the efforts of a Scottish farmer to oppose a new development by Donald Trump. The movie is called You've Been Trumped, and it is racking up accolades and awards.

I haven't seen the film. But I am confident that part of the reason it's earning such praise is that Donald Trump is an odious, preening buffoon. We've written before about his development plans in Scotland, and about his methane-soaked project in the Bronx. We have not, however, spent a lot of time otherwise mocking his stupid opinions and trolly comments. This is because one does not engage with children as though they are your equals. If the child is yours, you would put him in timeout; if he is not, if you are just an observer to a child's bad behavior, you merely sigh heavily and thank the Heavens that you were not cursed with such a useless little pile of crap.

Anyway. The farmer at the center of the film, Michael Forbes, is in the news again. This time, it's for winning "Top Scot" at the Spirit of Scotland awards.

"Blah blah blah blah"
"Blah blah blah blah."
Read more: Living, Politics


Huge, unusual storm slams into Philippines because that is what happens all the time now

This is Typhoon Bopha, as seen from the International Space Station.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

That's what it looks like from space. It's hard to get a sense of scale from that image, so here's another, showing it against the arc of the Earth. It extends for more than 300 miles in diameter.


More importantly, here's what it looks like from the ground.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Bumps on the road to EV infrastructure in California

About a third of the electric cars in the U.S. are spinning on California roads, but the state still has much work to do to build the charging infrastructure to support them.


There are about 1,000 public chargers in the state right now, and New Jersey-based NRG is poised to install 200 fast chargers and the wiring for 10,000 more regular chargers throughout the state by 2016. A fast charger can juice up a vehicle in as little as 15 minutes, while the regular kind can take hours. But building up the infrastructure isn't simple, as KQED reports:

Still, a multitude of challenges face NRG and other charging companies, like Bay Area-based ChargePoint andEcotality. Fast chargers produce very high voltage. They require complicated permitting. And they cost upward of $40,000 each.

Right now, the financials don’t add up says NRG’s Terry O’Day.


Fossil fuels beat renewables in race for state and local incentives

Over the weekend, The New York Times launched a series considering how state and local incentives to private business benefit the localities that bestow them. The bottom line seems to be: not much. Incentives frequently fail to prevent companies from relocating or going out of business, and often cost huge amounts of money while returning very little value to the public.

Reading the report, we couldn't help but wonder how those incentives -- a combination of tax breaks, zoning changes, and contributions -- broke down by industry. (Full disclosure: We have a bit of a chip on our shoulders about fossil fuels.) The report offers a teaser hint:

Far and away the most incentive money is spent on manufacturing, about $25.5 billion a year, followed by agriculture. The oil, gas and mining industries come in third, and the film business fourth. Technology is not far behind, as companies like Twitter and Facebook increasingly seek tax breaks and many localities bet on the industry’s long-term viability.

Third place is instructive, but not nearly enough. Happily, the Times also included a searchable database of incentives by company name. So we searched it.


Justice Department ditches Monsanto investigation

While we were celebrating Thanksgiving, Monsanto had much to be thankful for, too. Last month, the Department of Justice quietly scrapped an investigation begun in January 2010 into anticompetitive practices in the American seed market that Monsanto dominates like an extra-mean, extra-genetically-modified Hulk. Today, Hulk "pleased."


Tom Philpott at Mother Jones reports:

The DOJ didn't even see fit to mark the investigation's end with a press release. News of it emerged from a brief item Monsanto itself issued the Friday before Thanksgiving, declaring it had "received written notification" from the DOJ antitrust division that it had ended its investigation "without taking any enforcement action."


The next big U.N. climate report will not include the massive effects of permafrost melt

Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm is one of the best there is at breaking down climate science, which is to say that he is one of the best there is at dropping reams of data in your lap that he can demonstrate add up to the apocalypse. Yesterday, when you weren't looking, he dropped a ton of data in your lap in a post whose title ends in an exclamation point. So, you know. It's serious.

For a long time, climate scientists have been concerned about the effects of melting permafrost. By way of quick refresher, permafrost is the layer of frozen ground that is a hallmark of the Arctic. Since the region is usually below freezing, the soil stays frozen to varying depth, which has been a boon for development. Rock-solid soil makes it simple to build towns and roads. Until the permafrost starts to melt -- which it is -- causing some serious problems for those towns and roads.

Near Alaska, a chunk of permafrost breaks off into the Arctic Ocean
U.N./Christopher Arp
Near Alaska, a chunk of permafrost broke off into the Arctic Ocean.

That's actually the least troubling problem. Of far more concern is methane release. As layers of soil and vegetation that have been frozen solid for centuries thaw, they start to release methane that's been trapped. And, worse, that vegetation starts to decompose, releasing newly created methane. Methane, as we've noted, is far more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, creating a massive negative loop of warming and permafrost thaw and more warming and so on.

What's the U.N. going to do about the problem? Nothing. As Romm notes, a key U.N. report won't even acknowledge it exists.


Traffic signals for cyclists pop up nationwide

It's not all about the painted lanes, folks. In an effort to make streets more bike-friendly, more than 16 U.S. cities have embraced traffic signals just for bike-riders.


The lights are standard in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, and over the last couple years have started gaining traction in America, according to a study commissioned by the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

USA Today reports:

Bicyclists can be at risk when entering an intersection on a yellow light that allows enough time for cars to clear the intersection, but not for bikes, the study found. Even traditional green lights may not allow enough time for a bicyclist starting from a stopped position to make it across. Bicycle signals can also help prevent collisions when a motorist is turning right and a cyclist is going straight, by allowing the cyclist a few seconds head start.

Read more: Cities, Living


Supreme Court takes on dirty water

Nobody wants to take responsibility for nasty, polluted storm-water runoff. But the Supreme Court might soon force a few somebodies to do just that.


Today the court is hearing two cases on runoff from logging roads in the Pacific Northwest, which environmentalists say can threaten fish.

And tomorrow the court will hear a case on Los Angeles' filthy storm water, which contains "high levels of aluminum, copper, cyanide, fecal coliform bacteria and zinc," the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said last year. That water flows into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers and ultimately pollutes the area's beaches.

The fight over L.A.’s dirty water began back in 2008, when the Natural Resources Defense Council brought suit against the county flood control district, hoping to force stricter measures to prevent water pollution. But the county doesn’t acknowledge that the water is its responsibility. From the Los Angeles Times:

Read more: Cities


Wanna know what’s in that fracking fluid? Tough


As of last year, Texas has a law that requires fracking companies to reveal the chemicals used in their fracking fluids. Unless that fracking fluid is considered a "trade secret" by the fracking company, which, surprise surprise, companies have claimed 19,000 times in the first eight months of this year.

From Bloomberg:

A subsidiary of Nabors Industries Ltd. (NBR) pumped a mixture of chemicals identified only as “EXP- F0173-11” into a half-dozen oil wells in rural Karnes County, Texas, in July.

Few people outside Nabors, the largest onshore drilling contractor by revenue, know exactly what’s in that blend. This much is clear: One ingredient, an unidentified solvent, can cause damage to the kidney and liver, according to safety information about the product that Michigan state regulators have on file.

A year-old Texas law that requires drillers to disclose chemicals they pump underground during hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” was powerless to compel transparency for EXP- F0173-11. The solvent and several other ingredients in the product are considered a trade secret by Superior Well Services, the Nabors subsidiary.

While the ability of fracking companies to hide their ingredients is not a new problem, the Texas law demonstrates its extent. The specific makeup of fracking fluid is one of the innovations that led to the current shale gas boom; it's justifiable -- in the respect that fracking can be justified -- to claim that the combination of chemicals is proprietary information. The question that arises is how to balance that secrecy with public health. (A possible solution: Ban all fracking everywhere! This solution is unlikely to be adopted.)