RENO, Nev.— Bulldozers broke ground this week at geothermal developer Ormat’s Dixie Meadows Geothermal Project in Churchill County, Nevada, while court battles over the project’s fate continue.
Numerous independent and government scientists have said the geothermal project poses a serious risk of extinction to the Dixie Valley toad, a rare species that lives in the Dixie Meadows wetlands for which the project was named. Scientific analyses show that the project could dry up the wetlands that the toad needs to survive.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe sued the Bureau of Land Management in federal court to stop the project and protect the toad. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also currently reviewing whether the toad should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“If this project is built, the beautiful springs where the Dixie Valley toad will be forever altered and may dry up altogether, leading to the unique toad’s extinction,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “The survival of an entire species is more important than producing a tiny amount of power for Los Angeles.”
The BLM approved the project in late 2021. In December the Center and the Tribe won a preliminary injunction; the case was appealed and earlier this month the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the injunction.
In court filings Ormat claimed a power purchase agreement with the Southern California Public Power Authority, a consortium of municipal utilities including the city of Los Angeles, will give them a 25% premium on current market rates if they begin producing electricity by January 1. Ormat claims delays in the project causing the agreement to be renegotiated would cause a potential loss of $30 million in revenue.
“Ormat is rushing to bulldoze habitat before the judges have a chance to rule on whether that’s legal or not,” said Donnelly. “Squeezing Southern California ratepayers for profits doesn’t justify driving a species extinct.”
The Center filed a petition to protect the toad under the Endangered Species Act in 2017. The Service determined in 2018 that the toad may warrant protection but failed to make a required 12-month finding determining whether protection is in fact warranted. In 2020 the Center filed a separate lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failure to act on the Center’s Endangered Species Act petition for the Dixie Valley toad within statutory deadlines.