Las Vegas Sun

July 27, 2017

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Sun Endorsement:

Electric customers need options; Question 3 makes way for them

For all the energy spent over the past year discussing the role of rooftop solar panels, voters are now being asked a far more sweeping, fundamental question about how we get our power.

Approval of Question 3 on the Nov. 8 ballot would be the first of a two-step process that would change how Nevadans buy electricity. Currently, NV Energy is a protected monopoly that generates and distributes electricity, charging rates that are approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada and guaranteed to generate a profit for the utility.

The ballot measure, known as the Energy Choice Initiative, seeks voter approval to limit NV Energy’s role to just that of a distributor of electricity to customers through its power lines. But NV Energy won’t generate electricity to sell customers, nor serve as a middleman in buying power from other sources and then reselling it.

Instead, if Question 3, which would change the state constitution, is approved by voters now and confirmed by another vote in two years, power customers would be able to buy their electricity from any number of competing power producers. A business owner or residential user could, for instance, sign up with a company that burns coal or natural gas to generate electricity, or one that uses a renewable source — solar, wind or thermal. There could be multiple companies tapping the same power source and competing with their price structure and other enticements. It would be no different than a car owner having multiple choices for where to buy insurance. A separate bill would come from NV Energy for the cost of delivering the electricity to the customer on the power grid. In that respect, the utility will remain under the regulatory eye of the PUC.

NV Energy is not taking a position on Question 3.

The idea is hardly novel; electricity users in 14 other states buy their power in an open and competitive energy market, including New York and in much of the Northeast, as well as Texas and Oregon. The model has been adopted in the United Kingdom and Europe as well.

The Nevada Legislature in 1999 began the process to deregulate its electrical utility when Nevada Power, the predecessor to NV Energy, wanted to divest its assets and focus on the delivery side of the business. But the Legislature back-pedaled in 2001 when California’s deregulation led to an increase in rates and rolling brownouts, and Enron, which was to be the retail source of imported power for Nevada, was collapsing because of scandalous accounting. At the time, national oversight of utilities was weak. As the dust settled, Nevada Power not only stayed in the power-generation business but began pitching for additional power plants, not just to accommodate the state’s growth but to make more money.

In recent years, the marketplace has again opened up with greater confidence, and today nearly one-third of Americans have the ability to choose their electricity suppliers. Data from states with energy choices show that customers have benefited by a cost savings of nearly 20 percent, according to backers of the initiative. For their part, federal overseers have stepped up their game, changing their focus from economic regulation to market regulation and making sure there is no manipulation.

Will Nevadans who have installed rooftop solar panels still be able to get credit for putting their excess electricity onto the grid? Yes.

The Energy Choice Initiative makes all the sense in the world and has proven to work well elsewhere. It provides Nevadans the opportunity to shop around and buy electricity on the competitive open market and to decide whether they want their electricity to be generate by the sun, wind or hot groundwater, or by natural gas or (we dread the thought) coal. The Sun endorses Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative.

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Yes on Question 4

Question 4 on the ballot is the first step in exempting certain types of medical-related equipment — including oxygen tanks, feeding pumps, hospital beds, crutches, wheelchairs and oxygen-delivery equipment — from Nevada’s 6.85 percent sales and use tax. The state Senate approved the measure in the 2015 Legislature, but it never got to the Assembly for a vote.

If the measure passes in this election and is affirmed in 2018, the Legislature would be required to pass the necessary law. The loss of revenue to the state coffers is almost unnoticeable, but the tax is a big hit to those who need these devices and are already likely in some amount of financial distress.

This is a chance to show compassion to those who likely need to catch a break. The Sun recommends a “Yes” on Question 4.

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Yes on Question 5

What’s one complaint that virtually everyone shares about living in Clark County? The condition and congestion of our roads. But the county is making progress, thanks to a funding mechanism we may only barely notice: a per-gallon fuel tax that has been adjusted upward about 3 cents a year since 2014. The additional revenue allowed more than 200 road and highway improvement projects to begin.

The problem: The law allowing the fuel index is expiring, but there’s still much more to be done to improve our roads. Question 5, called the Fix Our Roads measure, would extend the indexing for another 10 years, probably staying below 2 cents per gallon for the first few years and never increasing any one year by more than 4 cents per gallon. The way that gas prices fluctuate, the increase might not be noticeable. And even if it is, what would be much more noticeable is the disrepair and congestion of our roads and highways.

We recommend a “Yes” vote on Question 5 because, for all the time we spend on our roads — and griping about them — a slight increase in the cost of gas will be worth it in the long run.

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