U.S. Geothermal Inc. (HTM) - Description of business

Company Description
The Company’s Business U.S. Geothermal Inc. (the “company,” “GTH” or “we” or “us” or words of similar import) is in the renewable “green” energy business. Through its subsidiary, U.S. Geothermal Inc., an Idaho corporation (“Geo-Idaho,” although our references to the company include and refer to our operations through Geo-Idaho), we are developing geothermal energy power plants in the Raft River area of Idaho. As more thoroughly discussed in the section below on Management’s Plan of Operations, the company has entered into a power purchase agreement, at 10 megawatts (MW), with Idaho Power Company, and is in the process of developing the power plant for the first phase of production. Business Development Geo-Idaho was formed as an Idaho corporation in February 2002 to conduct geothermal resource development. On March 5, 2002 Geo-Idaho entered into a letter agreement with the previous owner, pursuant to which Geo-Idaho agreed to acquire all of the real property, personal property and permits that comprised the owner’s interest in the Raft River project. We generally refer to this real and personal property interests as the “Vulcan Property”. On December 3, 2002 the letter agreement was replaced by a formal agreement with the previous owner (the “Vulcan Agreement”), which provided for the acquisition, in stages, of 100% of the Vulcan Property in consideration for shares and warrants of Geo-Idaho and cash payments to or on behalf of the previous owner of up to $600,000 (for 100% of the Vulcan Property). Geo-Idaho also agreed that, as a condition to completing the purchase of and as an owner of the Vulcan Property, it would work to advance the Raft River Project by expending at least $200,000 for a work program (which has since been completed). By August 1, 2005, Geo-Idaho had paid the previous owner $617,000 in securities and cash payments, and had completed the work program, to bring its percentage ownership in the Vulcan Property to 100%. The company and Geo-Idaho entered into a merger agreement on February 28, 2002, which was amended and restated on November 30, 2003, and closed on December 19, 2003. In accordance with the merger agreement, GTH acquired Geo-Idaho through the merger of Geo-Idaho with a wholly-owned subsidiary, EverGreen Power Inc., an Idaho corporation formed for that purpose. Geo-Idaho is the surviving corporation and the subsidiary through which GTH conducts operations. As part of this acquisition, we changed our name to U.S. Geothermal Inc. Because the former Geo-Idaho shareholders became the majority holders of GTH, the transaction is treated as a “reverse takeover” for accounting purposes. Competition Although the market for different forms of energy is large and dominated by very powerful -5- players, we perceive our industrial competition to be independent power producers and in particular those producers who provide “green“ renewable power. Our definition of green power is electricity derived from a source that does not pollute the air, water or earth. Sources of green power, in addition to geothermal, include wind, solar, biomass and run-of-the river hydroelectric. A number of states have instituted renewable portfolio standards (“RPS”) that require utilities to purchase a minimum percentage of their power from renewable sources. For example, RPS statutes in California and Nevada require 20% renewable, and according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy department, utilities in 34 states nationwide are providing their customers with the opportunity to purchase green, renewable power through premium pricing programs. As a result, we believe green power is a niche sub-market, in which many power purchasers are or are increasing or committing to increase their investments. Accordingly, the conventional energy producers do not provide direct competition. In the Pacific Northwest there are currently no geothermal facilities. There exist a number of wind farms, as well as biomass and run-of-the river hydroelectric facilities. However, GTH believes that the combination of greater reliability and baseload generation from geothermal, access to infrastructure for deliverability, and a low "full life" cost will allow it to successfully compete for long term power purchase agreements. Governmental Approvals and Regulation GTH is subject to both federal and state regulation in respect of the production, sale and distribution of electricity. Federal legislation includes The Public Utilities Act of 1935 (which has two titles: The Public Utility Holding Company Act ("PUHCA") and the Federal Power Act), as well as the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 ("PURPA") and the Energy Policy Act of 1992 ("EPACT "). Because GTH is defined as an independent power producer under the rules and regulations of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC"), the relevant aspects of federal legislation are that its electrical generating facilities qualify under the policy set forth under PURPA which encourages alternative energy sources such as geothermal, wind, biomass, solar and cogeneration. Additionally, under EPACT, the company is currently exempt from PUHCA legislation regulating rates for electricity on the wholesale level. The State of Idaho also regulates electricity through the Idaho Public Utility Commission ("IPUC"). Regulated utilities have the exclusive right to distribute and sell electricity within their service area. They may purchase electricity in the wholesale market from independent producers like GTH. The IPUC, in accordance with Federal PURPA legislation has the authority to set the rules and regulations governing the sale of electricity generated from alternative energy sources. Regulated utilities are required to purchase electricity on an avoided cost basis from qualifying facilities. Currently, the IPUC defines such a facility as having an average output capacity of 10 Megawatts (MW) per month and a contract term of up to 20 years. All PURPA contracts in Idaho are subject to the approval of the IPUC. GTH is not required to market any of the electricity that it may generate at Raft River to Idaho utilities; under EPACT, it can transmit and sell its electricity in another state. Nonetheless, GTH initially signed three 10 MW power  -6- purchase agreements (“PPA”) with the Idaho Power Company (“Idaho Power”). On May 8, 2006, Idaho Power confirmed that GTH would be allowed to bid the Raft River Unit 1 project into the recently issued Idaho Power geothermal “Request for Proposal for Geothermal Power”. If Idaho Power selects GTH as a successful bidder, the Company expects that under a new PPA with Idaho Power, which would replace the current PPA, the Unit 1 power plant will be allowed to sell its full output capacity of up to 13 MW annual average, instead of being capped at ten average MWs per month as mandated under the current PPA. This 30% increase in plant output would be achieved with no additional capital investment and is expected to decrease the operating cost per kilowatt-hour. With carbon regulation widely anticipated to increase the cost of power sourced from coal, and limited opportunities to purchase baseload geothermal power, the company has found that utilities across the Western United States have been eager to discuss power purchases from its Raft River geothermal resource. As a result of the increased interest, US Geothermal elected to withdraw its Unit 2 and Unit 3 Idaho Power PPAs without submitting them to the IPUC for approval in order to pursue larger capacity PPAs with other utilities. With the concurrence of Idaho Power, the Unit 2 and Unit 3 10MW contracts have been voided without further obligation on either party. Eugene Water and Electric Board (“EWEB”), from Eugene, Oregon and US Geothermal have signed a letter of intent for EWEB to purchase the full 13 MW electrical output of Unit 2. The parties have exchanged a draft PPA and intend to complete it by July 2006. Upon execution of the EWEB PPA, and if Unit 1 is successful in the Idaho Power Request for Proposal, then the total output from the Unit 1 and Unit 2 Raft River power plants will be 26 MW from two plants, instead of the originally planned 30 MW from three plants, resulting in substantial capital and operating cost savings through improved economy of scale. In addition, the strong regional interest in geothermal power has resulted in several utilities from California to Washington entering into discussions with US Geothermal to purchase the electrical power output of Unit 3. Subject to drilling confirmation of sufficient geothermal resource, the power plant output from three units at Raft River would be 39 MW, instead of the maximum 30MW under the previous Idaho Power PPA provisions. GTH will require the approval of various federal, state and local authorities for construction of a geothermal facility at Raft River. These authorities include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Bureau of Hazardous Materials, Idaho State Historical Society, Cassia County and the Southern Idaho Regional Solid Waste District. We have retained Kleinfelder Inc. of Boise, Idaho, an independent environmental and regulatory consultant, to advise GTH as to the siting and design for purpose of governmental approvals. Additionally, David Evans & Associates of Boise, Idaho is providing consulting and engineering services for transmission and interconnection issues and the preparation of the application for a conditional use permit. Centra Consulting, Inc. of Boise, Idaho has been retained to assist with State of Idaho air quality and cooling water reuse permitting. -7- Environmental Compliance As GTH’s design and permitting activities have progressed, it has further refined and clarified the environmental issues for which it will have to demonstrate compliance in the construction and operation of a geothermal facility at Raft River. Please see discussion below under Permitting in Item 6- Management’s Plan of Operations. The relevant legislation includes: Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors Act, National Historic Preservation Act, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Idaho Solid Waste Facilities Act and the IDAPA Drilling for Geothermal Resource Rules. The environmental assessment that the company is conducting will identify any additional steps that are needed to comply with these acts. We believe that a geothermal facility can be designed, constructed and placed into operation at Raft River that will meet environmental compliance requirements. At this time, the company does not believe that the cost of compliance at the federal, state and local levels will be significant. Employees GTH currently has six full-time employees. Once construction financing for the first power plant is obtained, we intend to engage additional consultants and service providers. As part of the ongoing operating requirements of the first power plant, we intend to hire approximately 10 to 12 operating staff, at an estimated annual cost of $635,000. The Company also continuously considers acquisition opportunities; if the company is successful in making acquisitions, additional management and administrative staff may be added. Risk Factors An investment in shares of our common stock involves a high degree of risk. Potential investors should consider the following factors, in addition to the other information provided by the company in its filings with the SEC in evaluating our business and proposed activities before they purchase any shares of our common stock. Risks Relating To Our Business We have a limited operating history, have incurred losses to date, and cannot give any assurance that we can ever attain profitability. Our company has been engaged in limited activities in the geothermal business since Geo-Idaho’s incorporation in February 2002. As a result of our brief operating history, our operating results from historical periods are not readily comparable to and may not be indicative of future results. We have not generated revenues from operations to date, and cannot give any assurance that we will be able to generate revenues in the future. For the years ended March 31, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, we incurred net losses of ($164,909), ($676,398), ($1,830,421), and ($1,523,385) respectively. At March 31, 2005, and March 31, 2006, we had accumulated deficits -8- of ($3,709,150) and ($5,232,535), respectively. We expect to incur losses for at least the next 18 months. We cannot give you any assurance that we will soon make a profit or that we will ever make a profit. To achieve profitability, we must, among other things, obtain financing to build and commission a geothermal electrical power generation facility for our initial power purchase agreements. Our future performance depends on our ability to establish that the geothermal resource is economically sustainable.Geothermal resource exploration and development involves a high degree of risk. The recovery of the amounts shown for geothermal properties and related deferred costs on our financial statements, as well as the execution of our business plan generally, is dependent upon the existence of economically recoverable and sustainable reserves. We have a need for substantial additional financing and will have to significantly delay, curtail or cease operations if we are unable to secure such financing.We require substantial additional financing to fund the cost of continued development of the Raft River project and other operating activities, and to finance the growth of our business, including the construction and commissioning of a power generation facility. We may not be able to obtain the needed funds on terms acceptable to us or at all. Further, if additional funds are raised by issuing equity securities, significant dilution to our current shareholders may occur and new investors may get rights that are preferential to current shareholders. Alternatively, we may have to bring in a joint venture partner to fund further development work, which would result in reducing our interest in the project. It is very costly to place geothermal resources into commercial production. Before the sale of any power can occur, it will be necessary to construct a gathering and disposal system, a power plant, and a transmission line, and considerable administrative costs would be incurred, together with the drilling of additional wells. We have estimated these costs to be around US $38,000,000 to be incurred over an eighteen month period. To fund expenditures ofthis magnitude, we may have to find a joint venture participant with substantial financial resources. There can be no assurance that a participant can be found and, if found, it would result in GTH having to substantially reduce its interest in the project. We may not be able to manage our growth.Significant growth in our operations will place demands on our operational, administrative and financial resources, and the increased scope of our operations will present challenges to us due to increased management time and resources required and our existing limited staff. Our future performance and profitability will depend in part on our ability to successfully integrate the operational, financial and administrative functions of Raft River and other acquired properties into our operations, to hire additional personnel and to implement necessary enhancements to our management systems to respond to changes in our business. There can be no assurance that we will be successful in these efforts. Our inability to integrate acquired properties, to hire additional personnel or to enhance our management systems could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations. -9- If we incur material debt to fund our business, we could face significant risks associated with such debt levels. We will need to procure significant additional financing to construct, commission and operate a power plant at Raft River in order to generate and sell electricity. If this financing includes the issuance of material amounts of debt, this would expose GTH to risks including, among others, the following: •           a portion of our cash flow from operations would be used for the payment of principal and interest on such indebtedness and would not be available for financing capital expenditures or other purposes; •           a significant level of indebtedness and the covenants governing such indebtedness could limit our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in our business because certain activities or financing options may be limited or prohibited under the terms of agreements relating to such indebtedness; •           a significant level of indebtedness may make us more vulnerable to defaults by the purchasers of electricity or in the event of a downturn in our business because of fixed debt service obligations; and •           the terms of agreements may require us to make interest and principal payments and to remain in compliance with stated financial covenants and ratios. If the requirements of such agreements were not satisfied, the lenders would be entitled to accelerate the payment of all outstanding indebtedness and foreclose on the collateral securing payment of that indebtedness, which would likely include our interest in the project. In such event, we cannot assure you that we would have sufficient funds available or could obtain the financing required to meet our obligations, including the repayment of outstanding principal and interest on such indebtedness. The success of our business relies on retaining our key personnel.We are dependent upon the services of our President and Chief Executive Officer, Daniel J. Kunz, our Chief Operating Officer, Douglas J. Glaspey, and Kevin Kitz, our Vice President – Project Development. The loss of any of their services could have a material adverse effect upon us. GTH has executed employment agreements with these persons but does not have key-man insurance on any of them. Our development activities are inherently very risky. The risks involved in the development of a geothermal resource cannot be over-stated. The development of a geothermal resource is such that there cannot be any assurance of success. Exploration costs are not fixed, and the resource cannot be relied upon until substantial development has taken place, which entails high exploration and development costs. The costs of development drilling are subject to numerous variables which could result in substantial cost overruns. Drilling for geothermal resource may involve unprofitable efforts, not only from dry wells, but from wells that are productive but do not produce sufficient net revenues to return a profit after drilling, operating and other costs. -10- Our drilling operations may be curtailed, delayed or cancelled as a result of numerous factors, many of which are beyond our control, including economic conditions, mechanical problems, title problems, weather conditions, compliance with governmental requirements and shortages or delays of equipment and services. If our drilling activities are not successful, we would experience a material adverse effect on our future results of operations and financial condition. In addition to the substantial risk that wells drilled will not be productive, or may decline in productivity after commencement of production, hazards such as unusual or unexpected geologic formations, pressures, downhole fires, mechanical failures, blowouts, cratering, explosions, uncontrollable flows of well fluids, pollution and other physical and environmental risks are inherent in geothermal exploration and production. These hazards could result in substantial losses to us due to injury and loss of life, severe damage to and destruction of property and equipment, pollution and other environmental damage and suspension of operations. As protection against operating hazards, we maintain insurance coverage against some, but not all, potential losses. We do not fully insure against all risks associated with our business either because such insurance is not available or because the cost of such coverage is considered prohibitive. The occurrence of an event that is not covered, or not fully covered, by insurance could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. The impact of governmental regulation could adversely affect our business. Our business is subject to certain federal, state and local laws and regulations, including laws and regulations on taxation, the exploration for and development, production and distribution of electricity, and environmental and safety matters. Many laws and regulations require drilling permits and govern the spacing of wells, rates of production, prevention of waste and other matters. Such laws and regulations may increase the costs of planning, designing, drilling, installing, operating and abandoning our geothermal wells, the power plant and other facilities. In addition, our operations are subject to complex environmental laws and regulations adopted by federal, state and local jurisdictions where we operate. We could incur liability to governments or third parties for any unlawful discharge of pollutants into the air, soil or water, including responsibility for remedial costs. We could potentially discharge such materials into the environment in any of the following ways: from a well or drilling equipment at a drill site; leakage from gathering systems, pipelines, power plant and storage tanks; damage to geothermal wells resulting from accidents during normal operations; and blowouts, cratering and explosions. In addition, the submission and approval of environmental impact assessments may be required. Environmental legislation is evolving in a manner which means stricter standards, and enforcement, fines and penalties for non-compliance are more stringent. Environmental assessments of proposed projects carry a heightened degree of responsibility for companies and -11- directors, officers and employees. The cost of compliance with changes in governmental regulations has a potential to reduce the profitability of operations. Because the requirements imposed by such laws and regulations are frequently changed, we cannot assure you that laws and regulations enacted in the future, including changes to existing laws and regulations, will not adversely affect our business. In addition, because we acquire interests in properties that have been operated in the past by others, we may be liable for environmental damage caused by such former operators. Industry competition may impede our growth.The electrical power generation industry, of which geothermal power is a sub-component, is highly competitive and we may not be able to compete successfully or grow our business. We compete in areas of pricing, grid access and markets. The industry in the Pacific Northwest, in which the Raft River project is located, is complex as it is composed of public utility districts, cooperatives and investor-owned power companies. Many of the participants produce and distribute electricity. Their willingness to purchase electricity from an independent producer may be based on a number of factors and not solely on pricing and surety of supply. Claims have been made that some geothermal plants cause seismic activity and related property damage.There are approximately two dozen geothermal plants operating within a fifty-square-mile region in the area of Anderson Springs, in Northern California, and there is general agreement that the operation of these plants causes a generally low level of seismic activity. Some residents in the Anderson Springs area have asserted property damage claims against those plant operators. There are significant issues whether the plant operators are liable, and to date no court has found in favor of such claimants. Even if liability is imposed on operators in the Anderson Springs area, we do not believe the area of the Raft River project or our intended operation of a power plant present the same geological or seismic risks. Actual costs of construction or operation of a power plant may exceed estimates used in negotiation of power purchase agreements. The company’s initial power purchase contract is under rates established by the Idaho Public Utility Commission, using an “avoided-cost” model for cost of construction and operating costs of a power plant. If the actual costs of construction or operations exceed the model costs, the company may not be able to build the contemplated power plant, or if constructed, may not be able to operate profitably. Payments under our initial power purchase agreement may be reduced if we are unable to forecast our production adequately. Under the terms of our initial power purchase agreement, if we do not deliver electricity output within 90% to 110% of our forecasted amount, payments for the amount delivered will be reduced, possibly significantly. If the company consistently mis-forecasts its output, its revenues will be reduced, and we may not be able to operate profitably. -12- There are some risks for which we do not or cannot carry insurance. Because our current operations are limited in scope, GTH carries public liability insurance and directors’ and officers’ liability coverage, but does not currently insure against any other risks. As its operations progress, GTH will acquire additional coverage consistent with its operational needs, but GTH may become subject to liability for pollution or other hazards against which it cannot insure or cannot insure at sufficient levels or against which it may elect not to insure because of high premium costs or other reasons. In particular, coverage is not available for environmental liability or earthquake damage. Our officers and directors may have conflicts of interests arising out of their relationships with other companies. Several of our directors and officers serve (or may agree to serve) as directors or officers of other companies or have significant shareholdings in other companies. To the extent that such other companies may participate in ventures in which GTH may participate, the directors may have a conflict of interest in negotiating and concluding terms respecting the extent of such participation. If a conflict of interest arises, a director who has such a conflict will abstain from voting for or against the approval of such a participation or such terms. From time to time several companies may participate in the acquisition, exploration and development of natural resource properties thereby allowing for their participation in larger programs, permitting involvement in a greater number of programs and reducing financial exposure in respect of any one program. It may also occur that a particular company will assign all or a portion of its interest in a particular program to another of these companies due to the financial position of the company making the assignment. Under the laws of the State of Delaware, the directors of GTH would be required to act honestly, in good faith and in the best interests of GTH. In determining whether or not GTH would participate in a particular program and what interest GTH would acquire in it, the directors would primarily consider the degree of risk to which GTH would be exposed and its financial position at that time. Risks Relating To The Market For Our Securities A significant number of shares of our common stock are eligible for sale in the United States, which could have an adverse effect on the market price for our common stock and could adversely affect our ability to raise needed capital. Currently, the number of shares in the public float on the TSX Venture Exchange and over-the-counter market in the U.S. is approximately 41,153,535. The market price for our common stock could decrease significantly and our ability to raise capital could be adversely affected by the availability of such a large number of shares. Our officers and directors hold sufficient shares that acting collectively they may be able to influence the outcome of matters submitted to the shareholders. Our officers and directors own in the aggregate approximately 13% of the company’s securities, on a fully diluted basis. If the officers and directors were to act collectively, assuming they continue to own all of their shares, there is a substantial likelihood that they would be able to -13- influence the election of the directors of the company and the outcome of all corporate actions requiring the approval of the shareholders, such as mergers and acquisitions, in their own interests and to the detriment of the other shareholders. The possible issuance of substantial amounts of additional shares without shareholder approval may dilute the percentage ownership of our shareholders. There are 43,303,844 shares of our common stock outstanding and 8,591,129 shares of common stock issuable upon exercise or conversion of outstanding options and warrants. There are 100,000,000 shares of our common stock authorized for issuance. All of our authorized shares in excess of those currently outstanding may be issued without any action or approval by our shareholders and may dilute the percentage ownership of our current shareholders. Because the public market for shares of our common stock is limited, investors may be unable to resell their shares of common stock. There is currently only a limited public market for our common stock on the TSX Venture Exchange and on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board in the United States, and investors may be unable to resell their shares of common stock. The development of an active public trading market depends upon the existence of willing buyers and sellers that are able to sell their shares and market makers that are willing to make a market in the shares. Under these circumstances, the market bid and ask prices for the shares may be significantly influenced by the decisions of the market makers to buy or sell the shares for their own account, which may be critical for the establishment and maintenance of a liquid public market in our common stock. Market makers are not required to maintain a continuous two-sided market and are free to withdraw firm quotations at any time. We cannot give you any assurance that an active public trading market for the shares will develop or be sustained. The price of our common stock is volatile, which may cause investment losses for our shareholders.The market for our common stock is highly volatile, having ranged in the last twelve months from a low of CDN$0.66 to a high of CDN$1.45 on the TSX Venture Exchange and from a low of US$0.50 to a high of US$1.00 on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board. The trading price of our common stock on the TSX Venture Exchange and on the OTCBB is subject to wide fluctuations in response to, among other things, quarterly variations in operating and financial results, and general economic and market conditions. In addition, statements or changes in opinions, ratings, or earnings estimates made by brokerage firms or industry analysts relating to our market or relating to our company could result in an immediate and adverse effect on the market price of our common stock. The highly volatile nature of our stock price may cause investment losses for our shareholders. Our common stock is considered to be a “penny stock,” which may make it more difficult for investors to sell their shares.Our common stock is considered to be a “penny stock.” The Securities and Exchange Commission has adopted rules that regulate broker-dealer practices in connection with transactions in “penny stocks.” Penny stocks generally are equity securities with a price of less -14- than $5.00 (other than securities registered on certain national securities exchanges or quoted on NASDAQ, provided that current price and volume information with respect to transactions in such securities is provided by the exchange or system). Prior to a transaction in a penny stock, a broker-dealer is required to: •           deliver a standardized risk disclosure document prepared by the Securities and Exchange Commission that provides information about penny stocks and the nature and level of risks in the penny stock market; •           provide the customer with current bid and offer quotations for the penny stock; •           explain the compensation of the broker-dealer and its salesperson in the transaction; •           provide monthly account statements showing the market value of each penny stock held in the customer’s account; and, •           make a special written determination that the penny stock is a suitable investment for the purchaser and receive the purchaser’s written agreement to the transaction. These requirements may have the effect of reducing the level of trading activity in the secondary market for our stock and investors may find it more difficult to sell their shares.