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EDITORIAL: Toad lands renewable energy project in hot water

Perhaps one day the environmental movement will be honest about this internal contradiction: Activists claim to believe global warming poses an existential threat to humanity, and yet they routinely oppose green energy projects necessary to move beyond fossil fuels.

It isn’t difficult to find global warming alarmists. In 2018, Greta Thunberg tweeted, “A top climate scientist is warning that climate change will wipe out all of humanity unless we stop using fossil fuels over the next five years.” Five years later, fossil fuel usage continues. Have we sealed our fate? Ms. Thunberg deleted the tweet. Perhaps that’s progress.

At a 2021 climate summit, President Joe Biden called increasing temperatures “an existential threat to human existence as we know it.” He continued, “We have the ability to invest in ourselves and build an equitable, clean energy future.” This will create “cleaner air for our children, bountiful oceans, healthier forests and ecosystems for our planet.”

One would expect that Mr. Biden and his administration would put all its resources behind encouraging green energy projects. But a Reno-based geothermal company has learned the hard way about the limits of that commitment.

Ormat Technologies Inc., is the biggest geothermal power company in the nation. It wants to build a plant near Dixie Valley springs, which is northeast of Fallon. Geothermal plants are an especially important type of renewable energy. They generate power using hot water beneath the Earth’s surface. This allows them to produce electricity continuously and predictably. Solar and wind power are intermittent. Solar is especially problematic because production declines as power usage peaks.

Geothermal energy plants also have a much smaller physical footprint than wind and solar facilities. To produce a gigawatt-hour of electricity, they require less than 13 percent of the land that a solar power plant would occupy.

The Biden administration and environmental groups should be thrilled about this project. But they aren’t.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the Dixie Valley toad, which is found only near Dixie Valley, on the endangered species list. It listed geothermal development as a “primary” threat to the toad. That led Ormat to stop construction. It has also downsized its plans from a 60-megawatt project to a 12-megawatt plant. The company has threatened to sue in hopes of restarting the project.

If global warming represents an existential threat to humanity, it would presumably also lead to the extinction of thousands of other species less capable of adaptation than humans — including the Dixie Valley toad. Wouldn’t killing the geothermal plant, then, be the worst of both worlds?

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