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Las Vegas Sands backing initiative to end NV Energy monopoly

NV Energy Building Exterior

Steve Marcus

Exterior view of the NV Energy building Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, in Las Vegas.

Updated Wednesday, May 25, 2016 | 4:59 p.m.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. is the main financial backer of a proposed ballot initiative to end NV Energy’s exclusive control over the state’s energy supply, according to a campaign finance disclosure report filed Tuesday.

The casino giant is part of a coalition of gaming and tech companies, including Tesla, that supports creating a competitive market for electricity in Nevada.

Sands has explored dumping NV Energy and purchasing electricity on the open market. But it decided to stay after the Nevada Public Utilities Commission said it would have to pay a $24 million exit fee.

In filings with the PUC, Sands said the fee was unjustified and meant to “perpetuate NV Energy’s monopoly.”

Two months later, Sands contributed $500,000 to the Energy Choice Initiative, which seeks to break up NV Energy’s monopoly and allow customers to choose power providers. NV Energy would still deliver electricity through its transmission and distribution system.

This is not the first time Nevada has flirted with deregulation.

An effort to deregulate Nevada’s power market was made in the late 1990s but was abandoned after instability in California’s newly deregulated markets triggered fears the same could happen here.

Until the financial disclosure Tuesday, organizers of the ballot initiative had been coy about disclosing funding sources, but signs suggested Sands was involved. Most notably, a Sands-funded poll this spring asked Nevadans a series of questions about NV Energy and the Energy Choice Initiative.

“While Las Vegas Sands did not exercise its option to exit NV Energy, the company maintains a strong desire to purchase and use the cleanest and most cost efficient energy available on the open market,” Ron Reese, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement.

“Big business should not be the only ones participating in a discussion about energy choice though,” Reese said. “It’s important our employees and all Nevada ratepayers have a voice in this debate and we will absolutely support efforts to help those voices be heard.”

Reese declined to discuss specifics.

MGM Resorts International, which plans to pay $87 million to leave NV Energy in October, recently contributed $10,000 to the initiative, after saying it would not support the ballot measure.

"Our rationale is consistent with the decision to purchase energy in the market in support of our sustainable energy strategy. As an extension, we believe other consumers should have similar freedom of choice," MGM Resorts spokesman Clark Dumont said.

Tesla and data company Switch have said they also support the ballot measure.

The measure could appeal to other casino companies, often big users of energy, since it could allow them to capitalize on cheap natural gas prices and renewable energy, which is expected to become increasingly more affordable.

It could benefit others, too.

SolarCity has not taken a stance on the initiative, but its policy director, Jon Wellinghoff, a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman and Nevada consumer advocate, said he supports the idea.

NV Energy has not taken a position on the ballot measure, but CEO Paul Caudill said in February that such an initiative is not surprising, given current dynamics in regional power markets that include low natural gas prices and the availability of energy.

He said NV Energy is “well-positioned to provide leadership and support to customers and stakeholders as we work through this complex issue and how it may affect jobs and investments in critical power and energy infrastructure.”

Organizers of the Energy Choice Initiative must obtain 55,000 signatures by June 21 to get the measure on the ballot. It must then be approved by voters in 2016 and 2018.

If voters back the idea, it would be unlikely the deregulation process would be completed before 2023.

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