Rare toad causes US environmental conflict to halt clean energy project

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The Biden administration is<-bsp-bb-link state="{"bbHref":"bbg://news/stories/RXZS25DWLU68","_id":"0000018e-4197-d509-adee-」の推進に全力を尽くしています。 49d7b5210000","_type":"0000016b-944a-dc2b-ab6b-d57ba1cc0000"}">Geothermal energy-bsp-bb-link> is being used as part of the clean energy push. But a two-inch toad from northern Nevada stands in the way.

Gurgling 130-degree water warmed by geological faults beneath Dixie Valley, the only known species is the Dixie Valley toad, a recently discovered species that federal officials consider endangered. It supports the ecosystem that is

The Dixie Valley toad is about 2 inches long.

USFWS Pacific Southwest Region

The same heat is highly sought after by geothermal developers eager to grow near-constant sources of renewable power to meet climate and reliability goals in the American West. For now, toads have the upper hand. The geothermal development was halted about two years ago due to a lawsuit, leaving only abandoned earthworks, fences and a crooked metal sign reading “Dixie Meadows Geothermal Project.”

Scott Lake, an attorney with the Reno, Nev.-based Center for Biological Diversity, said as he pushed through the grass to show the toad habitat as hot springs dripped just after dawn on a cold morning. During October. His group argues that digging into deeper geothermal reservoirs could cause surface hot springs to cool or dry up, leading to the toad’s extinction.

“If we’re going to actually make any progress in stemming the tide of species extinction, it starts here,” Lake said.

A sign at the entrance to Dixie Meadows Hot Springs in Dixie Valley, Nevada.

Andrew Sutter/Bloomberg

<-bsp-bb-link state="{"bbHref":"bbg://securities/ORA%20US%20Equity","_id":"0000018e-4197-d509-adee-49d7b5260000","_type":" 0000016b-944a-dc2b-ab6b-d57ba1cc0000"}">Ormat Technologies Inc.-bsp-bb-link>, the Reno-based developer of the Dixie Valley site, argued that the proposed project uses the winning closed-loop technology. Please do not touch the hot springs. The company is currently working with the Biden administration to find a solution (possibly another environmental assessment) to move the project forward. The administration is accusing federal officials of botching the permitting process due to conflicting findings from two different agencies within the Interior Department, and the issue is threatening renewable energy development not only in the Dixie Valley but across the West. They claim that it is delayed.

The hot springs and construction site are located in a rugged high desert valley 160 miles east of Reno and within walking distance of each other, meaning that government clean energy goals and conservation efforts can sometimes conflict. It shows that there is. These conflicting visions are playing out in the federal environmental review process governed by the National Environmental Policy Act (a 54-year-old law known as NEPA), which is undergoing revisions to generally speed up the process for applicants. It is being done.

The Biden administration is expected to finalize rules this year that address many of the obstacles that have stalled the Dixie Valley plan. According to the White House, the new rules will accelerate the permitting of new clean energy projects by improving coordination of environmental reviews, expanding categorical exclusions for certain projects, and setting project schedules and milestones. . The proposed NEPA changes would not apply retroactively to projects already in the permitting process, such as the Dixie Meadows project.

And Congress is considering changes to the permitting process, including deadlines for filing lawsuits challenging energy projects. The House Natural Resources Committee introduced four bills this month to speed up geothermal power generation and permitting delays. Among them is a bill that would force the Interior Department to issue permits and licenses for geothermal power generation, including in Dixie Valley.

Paul Thomsen, Ormat’s vice president of business development, said during a tour of the recently opened facility that the federal government’s proposal would lower significant hurdles to supplying geothermal energy to the West’s growing power grid. He said it would happen. Thomsen said the fastest time a geothermal project could realistically get a permit was about four years, with some Ormat projects taking 10 years.

“If we want to meet the government’s goal of developing this abundant and impressive renewable resource, we need to speed up the permitting process,” Thomsen said.

continue the attack

When NEPA was first implemented in the 1970s, industrial pollution was rampant and rivers were on fire. The act requires the government to study environmental damage, consider other alternatives, and consider community input to win major federal approvals such as roads, water, rail, and energy infrastructure. Obliged.

Now, renewable energy projects and the power lines that connect them to the power grid could face heightened scrutiny under the National Environmental Policy Act, Democrats and renewable energy groups argue. They are frustrated by laws that tolerate bureaucracy and long-running legal challenges that have delayed projects they say are urgently needed to combat climate change.

“We have NEPA to thank for the tremendous conservation it has done, but the process is necessarily slow,” said Congressman<-bsp-bb-link state="{"bbHref":"bbg://people/profile/17589101"は述べた。 ,"_id":"0000018e-4197-d509-adee-49d7b52b0000","_type":"0000016b-944a-dc2b-ab6b-d57ba1cc0000"}">Scott Peters-bsp-bb-link>, Democratic Congressman from California, spoke at a conference sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Council in October.

Peters said environmentalists were “on the defensive” in the 1970s. “But now, if we want to reduce emissions on time, countries need to go on the offensive. Environmental and climate action is about building something, not stopping something.”

Could the push for clean energy destroy the habitat of rare toads?

Current environmental considerations in the law may lead to conflicting project evaluations from government agencies, as was the case with the Dixie Valley project.

Thomsen said the company will be able to pump hot water from a reservoir about 2,000 feet underground, inject it several miles into the ground, and then return the water to the reservoir from which it was drawn in the first place. He said Ormatt has developed an aquatic resource management and mitigation plan to avoid impacting any species in nearby wetlands. The company tracks the movement of water to make sure it doesn’t touch water above it, which could damage the geothermal system, he said.

The Bureau of Land Management approved the project in November 2021 after an environmental assessment found there would be no impact to the spring water. About a year later, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued an emergency listing for the Dixie Valley toad, citing threats from geothermal facilities. BLM said it is working to complete additional environmental analysis after listing, but no timeline has been set yet.

“This kind of disparity between the Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM is something I have never seen in my career,” Thomsen said.

Paul Thomsen of Ormat Technologies.

Andrew Sutter/Bloomberg

A BLM spokesperson did not directly respond to Ormat’s claims that the process was mismanaged. A spokesperson said the agency “fully supports sustainable and responsible renewable energy development, including solar, wind, and geothermal power generation,” while working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that all potential species He said that he is considering the impact of A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said federal officials were in continuous contact with the BLM and Ormat throughout the Dixie Valley toad listing process.

The White House is setting the stage for a smoother permitting process for projects like Dixie Meadows by proposing legal changes.
“It’s important that we can complete the project and that we can do it in a timely manner,” White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory told Bloomberg Law in November, shortly after public comment on the bill ended. he said. Amendments to NEPA.

“Since taking office, we’ve spent a lot of time focused on, ‘How do we make our systems work faster and still protect our people?’” Mallory said.

6 million dollar hole

For Ormat, the stakes are high. The company recently signed a power purchase agreement representing 311 MW of geothermal production capacity. This is ambitious, increasing global portfolio capacity by almost a third, and this is dependent on the development of more projects.

The geothermal race is on, driven by state mandates and growing demand for zero-carbon electricity from large commercial and industrial customers who can balance weather-dependent wind and solar power.

Lauren Boyd, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Geothermal Technology, said: “We don’t want to talk about spending a lot of money on a very risky proposal knowing that we won’t necessarily get the value we deserve.” It’s difficult,” he said. “That value proposition is much clearer now than it was before.”

However, geothermal development can be difficult and risky. The industry’s biggest challenge is accessing underground reservoirs and knowing exactly how they behave: at what temperature and for how long. Ormat’s Thomsen said drilling can account for half of geothermal development costs, and if drillers don’t drill enough heat, they risk being left with a $6 million hole in the ground.

The Department of Energy wants to cut drilling costs by 90% by 2035 and expand geothermal use from hot spots in the West to states such as West Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Texas. The DOE found that geothermal energy, which provided just 0.4% of the nation’s utility-scale electricity in 2021, could power approximately 65 million U.S. homes by 2050.

Allowing improvements to geothermal projects is a big part of the risk. In a 2019 study, the DOE found that expanding categorical exemptions for exploratory drilling and centralizing permitting offices could accelerate deployment schedules by 112% by 2050.

The controversy surrounding Ormat’s geothermal development extends beyond the Dixie Valley wetlands.

At another Ormat site, 400 miles north of Reno, the Center for Biological Diversity petitions the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the bleached sandhill skipper, a rare butterfly, under the Endangered Species Act. did. The group is also pushing for the Fish Lake Valley tui chub (olive minnow) to be listed, near the site of a geothermal project being developed by Chinese company Caishan Group.

Scott Lake of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Andrew Sutter/Bloomberg

Thomsen said BLM geothermal drilling permits for about six Ormat projects in Nevada have been delayed for months beyond normal schedules.

Lake, from the Center for Biological Diversity, said there was enough uncertainty about the reservoir that geothermal power plants would be a “roll of the dice” on the toad’s future. He insists his organization is not trying to block the transition to clean energy, but that some projects should not move forward if the government follows the proper NEPA process.

Lake said the White House’s proposed regulations would weaken the way NEPA reviews have been conducted in the past, but would change the group’s strategy given the regulations are not final. He declined to comment on whether it was necessary.

As it stands, NEPA reviews “can be costly and slow up the advance review process,” Lake said. “But in the long term, I think it will be fairer, more sustainable and ultimately lead to a faster transition to carbon-free energy.”

To contact the author of this story:
<-bsp-bb-link state="{"bbHref":"bbg://people/profile/22465534","_id":"0000018e-4197-d509-adee-49d7b5390000","_type":"0000016b- 944a-dc2b-ab6b-d57ba1cc0000"}">Daniel Moore-bsp-bb-link> Arlington dmoore279@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this article:
<-bsp-bb-link state="{"bbHref":"bbg://people/profile/23576126","_id":"0000018e-4197-d509-adee-49d7b53c0000","_type":"0000016b- 944a-dc2b-ab6b-d57ba1cc0000"}">sei Chong-bsp-bb-link> at schong111@bloomberg.net

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