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Geo-Energie Suisse sticking with geothermal project in Haute-Sorne, Switzerland

Plant design for Haute-Sorne project, Switzerland (source: Geo-Energie Suisse)
Alexander Richter 29 May 2020

Geo-Energie Suisse will fight for its geothermal project aiming to increase communication efforts creating a dialogue with stakeholders it was denied so far, yet also not going to shy away from legal action if necessary.

In a release this week, Swiss geothermal development company Geo-Energie Suisse announced that it remains committed to the development of its geothermal power project in in Haute-Sorne, Canton of Jura, Switzerland.

This follows the announcement in April 2020 by the government of the Canton of Jura that it would review the revocation of legally binding permits for the geothermal project in Haute-Sorne. In the statement now released, Geo Energie Suisse AG (GES) adheres to the project. In order to increase the acceptance of the project, GES plans the next step to provide factual information and a constructive and open dialogue with the population.

Switzerland has realigned its energy policy with the 2050 energy strategy. Within 30 years, it plans to phase out nuclear energy, increase energy efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions and increase the share of renewable energy. The Haute-Sorne geothermal project makes a key contribution to the implementation of these national and cantonal goals, which is why it is of great importance.

Geo-Energie Suisse is sticking to the project

Following the announcement of a possible cancellation of the building permits by the cantonal government at the beginning of April 2020, the project managers checked the facts again and in detail. GES concludes that there are no technical, scientific or legal reasons to end the project. Especially since the courts have already assessed the feasibility of the project at the last instance. Instead, GES sees the urgent need for a dialogue about the opportunities and risks of the project in order to discuss all aspects of the planned geothermal project in detail and to deal with the fundamental concerns about deep geothermal energy. Such a risk dialogue is expected to contribute significantly to clarifying the controversial issues.

However, in a statement sent to the cantonal government in mid-May, GES also reserves the right to take legal action should the legally binding approval actually be withdrawn. This would mean that courts would have to make a preliminary decision about the legality of a withdrawal and whether the project could still be carried out. In a second procedure, the courts would then have to determine the amount of the compensation payment. However, GES will only get to the courts if the licenses granted are actually withdrawn and the development of deep geochemistry in Switzerland, as a renewable energy source, is impeded.

Authorities granted the building permit in 2015

The Haute-Sorne geothermal project offers both the Canton of Jura and the municipality of Haute-Sorne the opportunity to support a pilot project of national importance with international appeal, in which safety is given top priority. For this reason, GES will involve all relevant national as well as international scientific institutions to review security issues of the project. In addition, a contractually agreed monitoring and information commission is to ensure dialogue with the public and maximum transparency throughout the project. The commission consists of representatives of the canton, the municipality, the population, associations and the project organization. In view of the great potential of geothermal energy, the extensive clarifications on environmental sustainability and the in-depth risk studies, the responsible authorities had approved the geothermal energy project Haute-Sorne in June 2015. Finally, it should also be pointed out that the investment project of around 100 million Swiss francs will generate substantial local added value.

Lengthy procedures delayed dialogue

In the past five years, various processes and political debates have led to considerable delays. The Federal Supreme Court ultimately rejected the pending appeals against the project in December 2018, thereby putting the special use plan into effect. In addition, an initiative to ban geothermal energy in the canton was declared inadmissible by the constitutional court of the canton of Jura.

After an induced earthquake in Pohang, South Korea, the Jurassic government asked Geo-Energie Suisse in 2017 and then the Swiss Seismological Service (SED) to assess the seismic risk of the Haute-Sorne geothermal energy project.

Both the analyzes by GES and the corresponding report by the SED have fully confirmed the stipulated conditions and the planned risk management of the project in Hau-Sorne. However, the Monitoring and Information Commission was unable to start its work during the ongoing investigations and proceedings. Since the procedures have now been completed and the relevant reports are available, the project managers believe that the foundations for an objective and constructive dialogue with the population are now in place.

For the federal government of Switzerland, this project is a beacon project for deep geothermal energy in Switzerland. It supports the project with an exploration contribution of CHF 64.1 million (around USD 67m). The power plant could one day produce electricity for around 6,000 households. So far, no kilowatt hour of geothermal electricity has flowed in Switzerland. According to the Energy Strategy 2050, the potential of this energy source should be so great that around 8 percent of Switzerland’s electricity consumption could be covered. The operator emphasizes that the investment project will generate “substantial” local added value.

Source: Company release, Tagesanzeiger