Geothermal Plans Enmeshed in Legal Battle

By Published On: March 19, 2005

A hearing date in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for one of the two cases challenging Calpine?s proposed geothermal plants in Northern California is expected any day, according to Deborah Sivas, attorney for Earthjustice. The other case is working its way through U.S. District Court in Sacramento. Earthjustice represents tribal opponents in suits against the projects. The Pit River Tribe likens Calpine?s proposal to erect geothermal facilities in the Medicine Lake Highlands in Siskiyou County to ?putting a factory in a church,? according to Sivas. Prizing the healing powers of the waters, a coalition of tribes petitioned the federal government in 1999 to recognize the area?which is fertile with hot springs and volcanic activity?as a traditional cultural district. Despite opposition from Native Americans, questions about California subsidies for energy that?s slated to be shipped out of state, and the company?s recent record losses (<i>Circuit</i>, March 4, 2005), Calpine maintains that it has not abandoned plans to construct the Medicine Lake geothermal facilities in Northern California. Kent Robertson, Calpine spokesperson, pointed the finger at tribal and environmental foes for delaying Calpine?s efforts to conduct resource testing to verify whether there is enough geothermal power in the area to make the plants a viable option. Every time Calpine tries to get a permit, they raise objections, stalling the process, he said. Robertson conceded, however, that opponents haven?t actually prevented the company from doing the work. The California Energy Commission approved a total of close to $50 million in subsidies for the proposed renewable power. Calpine would get the subsidies once power is delivered to the grid. The tribe is upset that Calpine as a contract to sell output from one of the two proposed 49.9 MW plants to the Bonneville Power Administration. Robertson stressed that BPA provides power to the state. The grid relies on imports and exports?it all depends on demand, he added. Overall, geothermal power, which is produced by the heat of the earth, accounted for almost 5 percent of California?s electricity in 2003, according to the CEC. The state has a potential of more than 4,000 MW of additional power from this resource. Tapping this green power could add to the state?s pool of energy to meet the renewables portfolio standard?s 20 percent green mandate as early as 2010. Tribal opponents have rejected Calpine?s attempts to establish dialogue outside of court, according to Robertson. ?We are at the court?s mercy,? he said.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now