One of the darkest towns in america It is located approximately 100 miles north of Reno, where the lights are few and rarely turned on for up to a week each summer when pyrotechnics and LEDs illuminate the sky and mountains.
In tiny Gerlach, just outside Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, residents have seen the Burning Man festival grow over the past 30 years into a spectacle for nearly 80,000 countercultural hippies. and tech billionaires, offering an inexpensive lifeline for the unincorporated city. Now Burning Man and Gerlach are more closely aligned, joining conservationists and a Native American tribe in an alliance against a powerful adversary: Ormat Technologythe largest geothermal energy company in the country.
Both Burning Man and Ormat share a vision of a greener future, but neither can agree on the path to get there.
The festival promotes self-sufficiency and leaves no trace of its ephemeral metropolis, but contributes a huge carbon footprint; The energy company is committed to the future by fighting climate change, but its clean energy facilities pose a threat to local habitats while making a sizeable profit.
The dilemma has complicated similar projects around the world, underscoring the tension between the need to combat climate change and the cost of doing so using clean energy. In the effort for a sustainable future, what compromises must be made?
Experts say the answer boils down to the #1 rule of real estate: location, location, location.
“The devil is in the details with the exact location,” said Shaaron Netherton, chief executive of friends of the nevada desert. The organization has joined a lawsuit to block the Ormat project, which would explore possible geothermal resources in Gerlach.
Several Ormat initiatives have stalled or been forced to relocate amid concerns about possible threats to endangered species such as the bleached sandhill pattern, a rare butterfly; populations of capercaillie; he buckwheat steamer; and, more recently, the Dixie Valley Toad.
Opponents of Ormat’s project plans in Dixie Valley, Nevada, fear it will drain surface springs and push the little toad toward extinction. “Geothermal energy has a dirty little dark secret: Hot springs always dry up,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
However, other plants, such as the one in Ormat Tsuchiyu Onsen plant in Fukushima, Japan, coexist with neighboring hot springs, inspiring the Japanese to reconsider the potential of geothermal energythat generates electricity using subsoil fluids.
Ormat said in a statement that he recognizes the value of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. “Maintaining your resources is not only important to residents but also to our long-term success,” the company said.
Nevada’s geothermal resources have become a controversial topic. The state, known as the “golden child of geothermal energy”, contributes 24 percent of the country’s geothermal energythe highest after California, and produces nearly 10 percent of its electricity using heat from the ground.
Ormat has 15 plants in Nevada, which together contribute 433 megawatts to the state’s electrical grid, enough to power 325,000 homes. Geothermal settings, including hot springs, geysers, and steam vents found throughout the “Ring of Fire”, the tectonic pathway that encircles the Pacific Ocean, are home to a wide range of biodiverse ecosystems. They can also serve as sacred sites for indigenous tribes and supply spring water to rural towns like Gerlach.
The loss of drinking water is one of the many concerns Gerlach residents have about the proposed Ormat project. Another is subsidence, the gradual subsidence of the earth that is already taking place in certain parts of the city.
“They build the plant in the aquifer that Gerlach sits in, Gerlach will sink,” said Will Roger, who, along with his partner, Crimson Rose, are the founders of Burning Man and have lived in Gerlach for 10 years. “That means the foundations of our houses will be broken and we will be damned.”
Ormat worked to ensure there were no “significant environmental or economic losses generated by exploration or development” of the site, the company said in its statement. “Geothermal development can bring numerous benefits to communities, especially in rural towns like Gerlach.”
The aquifer is also home to the Great Boiling Springs, studied by the likes of NASA for its rare microbial similarities to conditions on Earth billions of years ago. Locals fear the plant will irreversibly affect the spring by mixing geothermal fluids with groundwater.
These are “geological uncertainties,” said Roland N. Horne, a professor of earth sciences at Stanford University. He explained that the older steam plants have dry hot springsbut most of Ormat’s plants, including the proposed one in Gerlach, run on binary technology in which geothermal water never leaves the ground. The binary power plants generate power through a heat exchanger “without emissions of any kind of geothermal fluids or gases,” he said.
Still, binary plants are not infallible. At the nearby Ormat plant in Jersey Valley, the springs dried up after operating for a few years. Ormat claims there is no evidence that the drought was caused by the plant, attributing it instead to a poorly plugged mine core hole.
To complicate matters in Gerlach, the plant would infringe on culturally significant springs for the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe. Randi Lone Eagle, president of the tribe, said the Bureau of Land Management did not properly consult with them before giving the green light to the project. “Tribes want to be notified well in advance of that process because many times we come to the table when the project is finished,” she said.
Critics of the plant say the town’s 130 residents could also be subjected to light, noise and pollution, with views of the desert and historic emigrant trails sullied by the presence of an industrial plant a hundred meters away. These risks were not weighed when the Bureau of Land Management found “no significant impact” in its environmental evaluation of the exploration project.
“It’s kind of a NIMBY, but so much more,” said Roger, the Burning Man co-founder, whose two-acre home has 50 trees, a maze, chickens and an aquaponics system that harvests tilapia and fertilizes his greenhouse. . “It’s not just ‘not in my backyard,’ it’s don’t mess up my backyard.”
Last month, local authorities rescinded a permission for Ormat to “temporarily explore whether there is a commercially viable geothermal resource” at Gerlach, Ormat said in its statement, noting what is likely to be a lengthy dispute.
Burning Man organizers say that when it comes to their social principles, they walk the talk. Sustainability projects funded by the Burning Man Project, the non-profit entity that organizes the festival, are springing up in the city. The organization claims that it “owns more than half of the commercial property in Gerlach”, advancing its goal of building a permanent community.
As part of an effort to reduce the festival’s annual carbon footprint of 100,000 tons by 2030, the Burning Man Project has outlined green initiatives such as providing more “solar installations for artwork and campers” and “having serious conversations” about what art to burn, Rose said.
But it is an ambitious goal. About 90 percent of Burning Man’s emissions are caused by cars, RVs and planes that ferry thousands of attendees into the remote wilderness.
Mr Roger said he hoped greener networks would attract more electric vehicles to the festival. Unfortunately, electric cars require lithium-ion batteries sourced from plants like the one in Fuse Battery plans to build outside of Gerlach and will probably receive a similar rejection.
He added that he had no plans to scale down the festival to offset its carbon footprint.
“Burning Man changes lives, so if we can wake people up there, it’s all worth it to me,” he said. “I don’t want to lower the number; I would like to upload it.