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Proposed geothermal plant draws fire in Nevada desert town

October 31, 2020 GMT

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Renewable energy power plants have their place — but not in Gerlach, say many residents of the town about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Reno.

The community of about 100 is fired up about a geothermal project proposed by Reno-based Ormat Technologies Inc., which would sit less than a 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) outside the town on the edge of the Black Rock Desert where the Burning Man counter-culture festival has been held for decades, the Reno Gazette Journal reports.

“Nope, rewards aren’t worth the damages,” Jim Hallman wrote on a Facebook thread about the proposed project.

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“I don’t like anything that messes with our dark skies and am very concerned what this will do to our water supply,” Cindy Carter added.

The Gerlach Geothermal Development Project would add two new power plants in the area, each producing 24 megawatts of electricity per hour, as well as an electrical substation, up to 23 geothermal production and injection wells, 4.6 miles of above-ground pipelines, access roads and a 26-mile (42-km) overhead power line running from the power plants to the North Valley Substation in the San Emidio Desert.

The plants would be built on both U.S. Bureau of Land Management and privately held land.

The San Emidio 11-megawatt facility is another Ormat project southwest of Gerlach that reached commercial operation in 2012.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, the proposed project would generate low voltage power at the new facility by pumping geothermal liquid to the surface through the production wells, circulating the liquid in a production system and then re-injecting the liquid back into underground geothermal reservoirs.

The above-ground pipelines would move the liquids from the wells to the power plants and back to the injection wells, and the overhead power line would move the energy to the North Valley Substation for transport to the commercial market.

Ormat is in the initial scoping phase of the project and any development at the site is several years out if it shows to be a good spot to construct the plant, according to Paul Thomsen, vice president of business development.

Thomsen said Ormat’s plants are zero emissions and low profile.

“We are very conscientious about groundwater pollution and the sage grouse. We take a very cautious approach,” he said.

The BLM is analyzing the environmental effects of the project and is still determining if an environmental assessment will be prepared for it. Public comment on the project is being accepted through Nov. 30.

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“It certainly will change Gerlach forever, and I’m very conflicted as to is this a good thing or not so good because of the impact it will have on the neighborhood. We will have to wait and see,” Gerlach resident Laura Blaylock told the Gazette Journal. “It’s certainly a done deal. They already are in the neighborhood over at Empire and already have the leases.”

Twenty-two residents gathered at a meeting this week to discuss the project.

“Because we already have a geothermal plant out here in San Emidio Valley, we kind of knew what was coming,” Elisabeth Gambrell said afterward.

She also has concerns about the project impacting the town’s viewshed and watershed. “We rely on tourism. Do we want two plants, pipelines and wellheads running across the face of our desert? Plus, we’re noted for our dark skies. It’s peaceful and quiet out here. Do we really want humming?”

The BLM recently wrapped up a public comment period on another proposal by Ormat to expand its North Valley Substation.

The San Emidio II North Valley Geothermal Development Project would expand the current 24,000-acre unit by potentially building a new power plant to produce up to 40 megawatts of electricity, as well as a substation, up to 26 production and injection wells, 7.5 miles (12 km) of above ground pipelines and a 58-mile-long (93-km) overhead power line that would run to the NV Energy Eagle Substation near Fernley.