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In Maryland, demand for solar energy is heating up. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law bills to increase funding for solar grants. Support for solar water heaters now include space heating and cooling technology, and increases from 20 percent (or $2,000) to 30 percent or $3,000 (whichever is less) of installed cost.

Solar panels and installations for electricity will increase from 20 percent (or $3,000), rising to $2,500 per kilowatt, topping off at $10,000. Put in a geothermal heat pump and you can claim $1,000 per ton credit, up to $3,000.

All these solar systems are now exempt from our six percent sales tax, and the systems’ owners exempt from property taxes on the value of their solar technology. Finally, O’Malley signed a bill to limit the power community and homeowner associations have to restrict solar devices as unsightly or unhistoric …

Across Maryland, farmers have a new electronic marketplace. At the Maryland Agricultural Exchange, manure, compost, hay, fodder crops, fruits and vegetables, organics, equipment, livestock and more can be swapped and sold. Created by the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland, the website will work like an agricultural Craigslist, helping farmers keep costs down as well as find buyers for manure. Buy and sell at

In Edgewater, 575 acres of field and forest will never fall to development. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center paid $6.2 million to the Kirkpatrick-Howat family for the Contee Farm in Southern Anne Arundel County. Next, the Smithsonian granted a conservation easement — that allows for ecological, and historic and research uses — to the Maryland Environmental Trust and the Scenic River Land Trust. The largest area under a Forest Stewardship Plan in central Maryland, Contee Farm joins Smithsonian’s 2,650 acres of contiguous watershed landscape, extending across four miles of fields, forests and wetlands to Chesapeake Bay. Contee Farm has archeological as well as ecologic value: sites from Piscataway Indian campsites and ruins of the colonial plantation.

In St. Mary’s County, St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s student newspaper takes top honors. The Point News was chosen as Best College Newspaper for 2007-2008 by the American Scholastic Press Association. The fortnightly newspaper — created by an all-student staff of 30 — also won a first place special merit award. The Scholastic Press was impressed with the talent of the paper’s “editors, reporters, writers, photographers, layout designers and advisors” …

Around the world, picnickers have a new alternative to paper and plastic disposables. Marxfoods’ Palm Leaf Dinnerware — handmade in India from fallen Adaka palm fronds — are biodegradable and can be composted. Washed, dried and hand-stretched into platters and bowls, the leak-proof plates cost $19.50 for a pack of 25. Compostability earns them green points, but the plates travel halfway around the world to get to you:

Across the world, the Swedish retailer Ikea plans to kick the plastic checkout bag habit starting in October. Shoppers who forget reusable totes can buy bags from Ikea for 59 cents each — or carry purchases in their arms. The reusable bag decision was made after 92 percent of customers polled urged Ikea to halt its use of plastic bags (the store doesn’t distribute paper bags). British Ikea stores already went plastic bag free last June …

Our Creature Feature comes from Solomons, where Mothers Day buffet patrons at Issac’s restaurant in the Holiday Inn saw how determined one mallard duck was to crash an event. Next to a large crack and hole in the plate glass window was the posted explanation: The Duck Did It!

“Someone saw the cracked window, then the feathers and then the stunned duck below the window,” said Jessica Coffey, whose registration table is near the duck sign. The mallard’s attempted entrée ran a-fowl. He fell on the outside of the window, wobbled away and then took flight.

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