Save a Single Species or the Entire World? The Energy Transition is Causing Difficult Decisions to be Made in Reno, Nevada

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energy transition

Transitions are difficult, no matter what. In Reno, NV, courts are having to decide between fighting against climate change and saving the world or saving a single species of endangered toad and protecting historical tribal lands. A geothermal power plant has been proposed for this delicate site by Ormat Technologies. However, upon further investigation, Ormat Technologies may be laying blame when they haven’t held to promises they made back in 2017.

A federal appeals court should resolve whether or not defending historic tribal lands and an endangered toad warrant blocking a significant geothermal plant in Nevada because the nation tries to maneuver away from fossil fuels amid a looming climate crisis.

Abandoning the Geothermal Plant

Ormat Technologies says it could abandon the venture if a 90-day court order stays in place into March on the high-desert site bordering wetlands fed by hot springs about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Reno.

The legal battle is headed to the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco after a federal judge in Reno denied Ormat’s request this week to raise the short-term injunction by Feb. 28.

Previous Actions Against the Geothermal Plant Construction

The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and the Center for Biological Diversity won the Jan. 4 court order briefly banning any activity on what they say are sacred ceremonial grounds and home to the Dixie Valley toad being considered for a U.S. endangered species listing.

They also warn that the venture could end up costing ratepayers in Southern California more for electricity.

Reno-based Ormat, one of the 5 largest U.S. geothermal producers, says it may lose tens of millions of {dollars} if it can’t start building at the site on federal land before March.

“While this can be a vital blow to the company, it could sound the death knell for the project,” its legal professionals wrote in their request to cut the 90-day order in half.

Ormat’s Investment

Ormat stated it has invested $68 million over 10 years to begin building early this yr and meet a Dec. 31 deadline to start selling power at charges above current market prices underneath a 2017 contract.

They informed U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones on Jan. 10 the state of affairs makes it “virtually impossible” to satisfy the deadline “critical to making the project economically feasible.”

The Court’s Response

Jones stated in his order late Wednesday they need to take it up with the appellate court in San Francisco.

“The most efficient and direct path to resolve any party’s concerns with this court’s orders on the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction is to pursue an appeal on an expedited basis,” he wrote.

On Thursday, Ormat’s legal professionals filed a formal notice of their intent to appeal.

It is the newest development in a lawsuit the opponents filed last month in search of a way to void an environmental review the Bureau of Land Management accepted in authorizing the venture in November.

Increased Electric Prices and Damaging Dixie Meadows

The lawsuit says pumping water from beneath the earth in Dixie Meadows will hurt the hot springs the tribe considers sacred and might push the toad to the brink of extinction at the only place on the planet it is known to exist.

The opponent’s legal professionals additionally say in their newest court filings that while Ormat could profit from the power deal it cut in 2017, electrical ratepayers wouldn’t.

“Ormat’s interest in cashing in on above-market costs — which would probably be borne by consumers within the Los Angeles area over the length of the contract — does not constitute irreparable harm,” they wrote.

Ormat argues the ceremonial lands and the toad itself are too far from the plant to be harmed, and that the area already is developed with roads, powerlines, a wellfield, and a current gravel pit bordering the site.

A Key Part in Fighting Against the Climate Crisis

Its legal professionals say geothermal development is a particularly vital step “in the global fight to reduce greenhouse gases and slow climate change.” In contrast to wind and solar, geothermal energy “contributes to the availability of clean energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” they stated.

“The loss of the project would deal a massive blow to the state’s efforts to replace fossil fuel combustion with renewable energy, posing an obstacle to Nevada’s constitutional requirement to procure 50% of the state’s energy from renewable resources by 2030,” they wrote.

Ormat Brought this On Themselves

The tribe and conservationists say any delays in building are largely of Ormat’s and the federal government’s “own making.”

Their legal professionals say the bureau’s environmental evaluation makes clear that from 2011-2016, Ormat failed to gather required floor water monitoring knowledge as it had agreed to under its lease.

They stated they alerted Ormat and the bureau in 2017 that they wanted to organize a more detailed environmental impact statement.

“The failure to resolve those issues over the subsequent years does not now create an emergency,” they wrote.



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