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Nevada counties fight for share of geothermal money

Associated Press

Nine Nevada counties are pressing Congress to repeal a provision in a federal appropriations bill that could cost counties in at least six Western states millions of dollars in lost revenues from geothermal activity.

Tim Josi, president of the National Association of Counties Western Interstate Region, said the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave counties a 25 percent share of geothermal revenues to deal with impacts of geothermal activity.

He said the recent passage of the 2010 Interior Department appropriations bill effectively redirects the county’s share of geothermal revenues back to the federal government.

In Nevada, geothermal production takes place in Churchill, Elko, Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lander, Mineral, Nye, Pershing and Washoe counties.

“This will have a significant impact to all geothermal counties,” Churchill County Manager Brad Goetsch told the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard newspaper.

Churchill Comptroller Alan Kalt said his rural county stands to lose as much as $100,000 for the quarter ending Dec. 31. The county has seven geothermal plants.

Churchill Commissioner Norm Frey is working with other Nevada counties and Josi to repeal the provision.

“If the U.S. government is serious about developing geothermal energy, communities should be considered in the plans,” he said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., have introduced bills to repeal the provision relating to geothermal energy receipts.

Nevada’s congressional delegation also have introduced legislation to extend the counties’ geothermal revenue share permanently and to create a new county revenue share for wind and solar development on public land.

“This will ensure Nevada counties benefit from these renewable energy projects,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.

Heller said he remains optimistic that both bills will be passed, but it will be difficult because it’s part of President Barack Obama’s budget. “I am pushing as hard as I can … No other state is affected as much by this provision,” Heller said.

Kalt warned that geothermal exploration could slow down unless Congress corrects the situation.