Las Vegas Sun

September 24, 2018

Currently: 96° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

Knowledge is power: Breaking down upcoming ballot questions on energy

If you’ve seen one ballot question on energy, you definitely haven’t seen them all.

In November, Nevadans will see two ballot questions related to electrical power, which could be confusing — especially since one of them has already been on a ballot.

So what’s the difference between Question 3 and Question 6? Here’s a look at the two initiatives:

What is Question 3?

It’s the so-called “energy choice” initiative, which would open Nevada’s energy market to new power providers. In the words of its supporters, it would establish “an open, competitive retail electric energy market” while removing aspects of energy monopolies and reducing regulations. As with Question 6, it would be an amendment to the Nevada Constitution.

OK, and Question 6?

That one has to do with the development of renewable energy. It would require the state to expand its “portfolio standard” to 50 percent by 2030, meaning that 50 percent of the power provided to Nevadans would need to come from solar, wind and geothermal sources by 2030.

Question 3 sounds familiar. How come?

It was on the ballot for the first time in 2016, when it passed. Now it’s back for its second vote, as required by Nevada law for any initiative that would alter the state constitution. Question 6 is appearing on the ballot for the first time. If it passes, it will go back before voters in 2020.

Would Question 3 and Question 6 affect each other?

If Question 3 passes this year and Question 6 were to pass twice, it would mean that any company that entered the market would be required to generate 50 percent of its power to Nevadans from renewable sources by 2030. Currently, about 20 percent of the state’s power comes from renewables.

What would happen next if Question 3 passes?

Welcome to one of the key points of contention about the question. The base answer is that state lawmakers would have to create the structure of a new market. Many questions remain about how an open market would be structured, however, and how long the process of crafting one would take.

Who’s supporting Question 3, and why?

Some of the state’s biggest companies are behind the initiative, including MGM Resorts, Sands Corp. and Switch. Proponents claim that breaking up NV Energy’s monopoly and allowing others into the market will create competition and drive down costs for consumers — an average of $133.92 per year, or $11.16 per month. They also claim it will create new jobs. Some of the companies backing the measure, such as MGM and Switch, are among big players who have paid a combined $173 million in fees to exit NV Energy’s grid and obtain power from other sources. Other companies, including Station Casinos and the Peppermill casino in Reno, are working through similar exits. The ramifications of ongoing pull-outs are unclear in the long term, but the exit fees are designed to cushion other consumers from NV Energy’s loss of revenue from the big companies — and ease the burden of remaining customers to maintaining the power grid.

Why would anybody vote against Question 3?

Opponents say that first of all, there’s no proof that the initiative would drive down costs. Worse yet, they say, it could raise costs for several years.

Different studies have come to different conclusions. In fact, a committee of lawmakers and policy experts assembled by Gov. Brian Sandoval concluded this summer that there was “no clear consensus” on whether the measure would be benefit all consumers. Opponents say another key problem involves putting the initiative into the constitution, something no other state has done. That approach, they say, puts an undue burden on the Legislature to create the new structure — a real challenge considering that lawmakers aren’t energy experts and that the Legislature meets only once every other year.

Why would it raise costs?

This is a thorny one. At the root of it is NV Energy’s role should Question 3 pass. The utility would still have responsibility for maintaining the energy transmission grid, but says it would get out of the business of selling power to consumers because it would no longer be cost effective. That being the case, opponents of Question 3 say, the utility would have to pass along its costs of maintaining the system to ratepayers. In an April report, state regulators put the cost of those “stranded assets” at $6 billion. (NV Energy, by the way, is opposing the measure.)

But supporters contend that figure, which was based on data provided by NV Energy, is grossly inflated.

What about Question 6 -- who’s for it, and who’s against?

That one has a broad base of support of businesses, labor, community groups and medical professionals. Opponents only recently emerged, and include far-right Nevada politicians such as State Controller Ron Knecht and Assemblyman Jim Wheeler.

What are the arguments for and against Question 6?

The key argument in favor is that renewable energy development makes sense both environmentally and economically in Nevada, with its abundant sunshine. The environmental benefits are obvious, supporters say, and consumers will benefit as the cost of renewable energy generation continues to fall. Opponents say it’s unnecessary, given that portfolio standards are already in place in Nevada, and that it would be problematic if Nevadans were to pass it and then find that hitting the targets would be impractical or prohibitively expensive. In that scenario, they say, the only way to adjust would be to amend the constitution again.

What’s the state’s current target for renewable energy? And why bother with a ballot question?

Yes, Nevada has had a portfolio standard as far back as 1997. It’s currently 25 percent by 2025, as set by state lawmakers. The aim of the ballot question is to set the bar higher and put the measure in the constitution, which would prevent lawmakers from lowering the standard or abandoning it altogether.

That’s not a hypothetical. In 2017, the Legislature approved a bill raising the standards, but Sandoval vetoed it, citing uncertainty over how Question 3 would affect renewable energy development.

But supporters of Question 6 say the standards should be raised regardless of what happens with Question 3.

Where can I get more information?

The Sun and sister publication Las Vegas Weekly will be producing detailed stories about the ballot questions in the run-up to the election both in print and online at lasvegassun.com and lasvegasweekly.com

In the meantime, info from Question 3 supporters is available at yesquestion3.com, while the opposition can be found at noon3.com.

See more on Question 6 by visiting cleanfuturenv.com.