In 2009, the US Department of Energy awarded Grand Superior a $1.8 billion contract to provide geothermal power to the state of Alaska, one of the country’s largest geothermal resources.
The award was hailed as a milestone for the US, which had previously relied on foreign suppliers to generate its geothermal electricity.
The company had been founded in 2007 by former Nasa engineer Robert Grand.
Grand had a background in nuclear fusion research at Stanford University.
In a video about the geothermal project, Grand told the audience that he was passionate about the power it could generate.
“I can’t tell you how much energy that could produce,” he said.
“The amount of energy that I think that could be produced, it’s unimaginable.”
However, the company soon faced financial difficulties.
A report by the US Securities and Exchange Commission found that Grand had not adequately disclosed the risks that his company’s geothermal projects faced, including that they would not meet federal safety requirements.
The US government awarded Grand a $600m loan to develop and finance its geysers in 2010.
In January 2011, Grand’s company filed for bankruptcy protection.
Grand and his wife died in a car crash in February 2012.
A federal judge granted the company’s request to remain insolvent.
In March 2013, Grand agreed to pay $3.6bn to the government.
Grand said the money would help the company to “expand its geoservice footprint in the US”.
“Grand Superior has had many years of development experience and a strong track record of financial success,” a spokesperson for the company told New Scientist.
“In fact, Grand has had over $3bn in capital raised and has successfully completed three major geothermal facilities since 2008.”
In January 2014, Grand and two of his company employees were sentenced to prison terms for the alleged conspiracy.
The pair had worked as two of Grand’s employees to install the company geyser systems.
The court ruled that the pair, who were both US citizens, were “coercive and manipulative” in their attempts to get the government to award the contract to Grand.
“Grand was a partner in the scheme to obtain the award to develop the US geothermal industry,” the court said.
The sentence was the largest criminal conviction of a geothermal company in the history of the US.
The judge, however, said that Grand’s crime did not amount to a crime against humanity.
“While Grand Superior has been held criminally responsible, Grand is not a person of conscience and should not be sentenced for his criminal actions,” the judge wrote.
“He was only convicted for a crime he did not commit.
He was only guilty of the conduct of others.”