Nevada toad, threatened by geothermal power plant, wins endangered protection

Dixie Valley Toad by Patrick Donnelly / Center for Biological Diversity
  • U.S. says the tiny toad primarily threatened by geothermal development
  • Ormat spokesman says power plant plans to downsize

(Reuters) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday finalized endangered species protections for a two-inch toad in western Nevada whose home is threatened by a planned massive geothermal energy project at the heart of ongoing environmental litigation.

The listing now requires the service to analyze the impact of the $68 million project proposed by Reno-based Ormat Technologies on the Dixie Valley toad, which is found only near the construction site.

Ormat spokesperson Zamir Dahbash said in a statement the company expected the permanent ESA listing and said consultation between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Service regarding impacts on the toad had already begun.

Ormat is now seeking approval from the federal government for a smaller project than originally planned, Dahbash said. He said that smaller project would provide “additional assurances” the toad is not jeopardized by development.

Construction on the Dixie Meadows Geothermal Utilization Project was halted in January by a federal judge after the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and Center for Biological Diversity sued, claiming the government skimped on environmental reviews and the project threatened sacred Native American grounds.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted that pause in February after Ormat complained the injunction made it “virtually impossible” to finish construction by the end of 2022, which would cost it $30 million in missed revenue from power-delivery contracts.

After an emergency ESA listing for the toad in April, Ormat agreed to halt construction until consultation could be finished, or until the end of the year.

The power plant would tap into water heated by the Earth’s core and was approved by the Bureau of Land Management in late 2021. BLM said the plant would support President Joe Biden’s push to decarbonize the electricity sector. The federal government recently announced an initiative to make geothermal energy a widespread option by reducing prices 90% by 2035.

Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Thursday "[w]e need to come up with a plan for how to deploy geothermal energy without exacerbating the extinction crisis.”

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