PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: Jason Walters explains his concerns about Ormat’s geothermal project, which would be built behind the white buildings in the background of the photo, at the foot of the Granite Mountains.

Washoe County commissioners have revoked a geothermal company’s permit to drill test wells near Gerlach for a geothermal energy project that opponents fear would dry up hot springs, undermine buildings and contaminate water supplies.

Gerlach residents who oppose the project hailed the commissioners’ decision, but noted the drilling permit is just one aspect of what could become a multimillion dollar industrial project in their backyard.

“We won at the county level,” said Jason Walters, who is among the town residents who have been fighting against the proposal. “But every fight is a door to another until the battle is won.”

Representatives of Ormat Technologies, the company that wants to determine if the area less than a half-mile from the town is suitable for large-scale geothermal development, did not return requests for comment.

Gerlach is at the edge of the Black Rock Desert, site of the annual Burning Man festival. The Burning Man organization. along with environmental groups and others, is suing the Bureau of Land Management, which they allege approved Ormat’s plans without conducting a rigorous environmental review of the plan’s potential impacts.

Ormat’s initial application to the BLM was for the construction of two geothermal plants, but the company withdrew that proposal and focused on getting approval for exploratory wells instead. Opponents argue that Ormat “segmented” its permitting requests into smaller pieces to sidestep closer environmental scrutiny.

In addition to Burning Man, plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Friends of Black Rock High Rock, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe and individual local residents. The residents and organizations told commissioners they were not given sufficient notice to respond to the company’s plans.

“I want to do things right,” said Jeanne Herman, vice chair of the Board of Commissioners. “I think the people need a little more time to have a chance to be informed.”

In an interview with the RN&R in March, Ormat officials said the firm followed all local and federal requirements.

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1 Comment

  1. Getting off coal and oil power plants will benefit us ALL. It appears Ormat has answered most of the residents’ concerns.
    This sounds almost NIMBY to me.

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