Lawmakers are asking Nevada voters to boost the renewable energy consumption requirement to 50 percent by 2030. About 20 percent of Nevada’s current energy consumption comes from renewables, with a goal of 25 percent by 2025.
To become law, the initiative would need to be approved by voters in 2018 and again in 2020.
Citing possible uncertainty in the energy market, Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a 2017 bill calling for a 40 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2030. The standard had been negotiated down from 50 percent, and Sandoval’s veto triggered supporters to send the bill’s original ask as Ballot Question 6.
In a nutshell
Voting “Yes” boosts the renewable energy consumption requirement to 50 percent by 2030. To become law, it will need to be approved again by voters in 2020.
Voting “No” leaves renewable energy consumption as is, 25 percent by 2025.
Supporters of the Renewable Energy Promotion Initiative say approving a higher RPS amid restructuring the market would make the state’s renewable energy goals clear from the beginning to companies looking to come into Nevada. Others say Nevada’s current standard takes a measured approach that helps boost reliability while protecting ratepayers.
• How long has Nevada had a renewable energy portfolio standard? Nevada adopted its first RPS in 1997, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, and there have been attempts to amend it in many legislative sessions since. The current standard was approved through Senate Bill 358 in 2009. The state is required by law to graduate to 22 percent renewables by 2020, reaching a 25 percent requirement by 2025.
• Why did the governor veto the higher RPS in Assembly Bill 206 that came out of the 2017 Legislature? Sandoval cited uncertainty should the state also decide to restructure its retail energy market—which is being voted on as Ballot Question 3 this November. If passed, Question 3 would force the Legislature to deregulate the market, eliminating NV Energy’s monopoly on electricity, and open the door for other providers.
“Although the promise of AB206 is commendable, its adoption is premature in the face of evolving energy policy in Nevada,” Sandoval wrote in his veto letter.
• Would a higher RPS help improve air quality in Nevada? Nevadans for a Clean Energy Future, a group that supports Question 6, points to Las Vegas’ 12th-place ranking of more than 227 cities for smog in a study by the American Lung Association. Los Angeles tops the list as the worst. Higher renewable standards reduce pollutants like sulfur dioxide, and one analysis in the Secretary of State’s ballot guide says Question 6 could save Nevada residents an estimated $20 million annually on health costs. Opponents say California’s wildfires are responsible for “vast amounts of Nevada’s poor air quality,” and that better forest management is needed to the west rather than a new RPS.
• Does poor air quality disproportionately affect communities of color? “Historically, communities of color are the most affected by power plant emissions,” said Kyle Roerink of Nevadans for a Clean Energy Future. He pointed to North Las Vegas, a diverse community where residents are within a 23-mile radius of five fossil fuel-burning power plants and the Moapa Band of Paiutes near the Reid Gardner power plant, which closed in 2017.
The Center for American Progress reported that black and Hispanic children are disproportionately affected by poor air quality and asthma.
• Does the falling cost of renewables make a higher RPS easier or unnecessary? Renewable energy will be competitively priced or cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. Supporters of the RPS measure on the Secretary of State’s Ballot Question Committee said Nevada is falling behind other states, and energy companies need to be pushed by voters to increase their renewables. Opponents said the measure wouldn’t be required if renewables could compete with fossil fuels on price.
• If Question 6 passes, what can consumers expect? Consumers may not notice much of a change as a result of a higher RPS. Supporters of the measure say falling costs of renewables could become savings that are passed on to consumers through rate decreases. Opponents say pushing too many renewables too fast could make the power supply less reliable.
• Which states have a higher RPS than Nevada?
New Jersey, New York and Oregon require a 50 percent RPS. Maine requires 40 percent, and Vermont is aiming for 75 percent by 2032. California and Hawaii require 100 percent renewables by 2045.
• What happens if the standard isn’t met? Energy providers submit an annual report to the Public Utilities Commission that includes their RPS compliance progress. The RPS law, which excludes rural cooperatives and general improvement districts, has a punitive process for those failing to meet targets, though NV Energy has yet to miss a goal. Energy-efficiency measures and portfolio energy credits, earned by renewable producers and sold to NV Energy, can help reach compliance with the RPS.
Many officials have not yet expressed opposition to Ballot Question 6. If it passes in November, it would need to be approved by voters again in 2020. Opposition to the previous energy choice initiative grew after it passed its first vote, and the same may happen if the renewable portfolio standard passes its first hurdle with voters this year.
• Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., congressional incumbent: “I led the charge to create Nevada’s first Renewable Portfolio Standard in 1997 while serving in the state Senate and have supported similar guidelines at the federal level. In recent years, Democrats have heard the calls from Nevadans to increase RPS benchmarks but have been met by opposition in the Legislature. This ballot initiative puts the power in the hands of the people and sends a message to the nation that 25 percent by 2025 is not enough. It is time our state does what Trump, Republicans and the fossil fuel lobby are unwilling to do: cut emissions, create clean-energy jobs and modernize more of the power sources that energize our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.”
• Steve Sisolak, candidate for governor: “I am a strong supporter of Question 6 and believe we can and must go further. Nevada has an opportunity right now to become the leader in clean, renewable energy—which is one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors. As governor, I’ll be committed to getting Nevada there. Not only do renewable energy projects protect our resources and environment, they create good-paying jobs in our communities.”
• Chris Brooks, Democratic Assemblyman: Brooks sponsored the original RPS bill and expressed disappointment after Sandoval vetoed it. “Our goal this session was to shift Nevada away from a boom-and-bust cycle economy and toward a more prosperous future. AB206 would have made Nevada not just a national leader, but a world leader, in the next generation of clean and renewable energy sources that would have diversified our economy and created good-paying, high-quality jobs.”
• Ruben Murillo Jr., president of the Nevada State Education Association: “We support yes on 6 because the next generation of students needs a healthy environment in and out of the classroom. Question 6 will lead to a major reduction of Nevada’s reliance on fossil fuels and unsustainable energy. For a Nevada with cleaner air, healthier children and a brighter future, vote yes on 6.”
• Don Gustavson and Jerry Stacy, Opposition Ballot Question Committee members: “Nevada is better served by a legislative process that safely adjusts the proportional quantities of Nevada’s power usage as technological developments continue to advance. Question 6 proposes to rip away our safety net by mandating rigid timeframes that remove the ability to consider ratepayer protections and impending technological improvements,” Gustavson and Stacy wrote in an argument against passage for the Nevada Secretary of State’s ballot guide.
• Adam Laxalt, candidate for governor: Laxalt's campaign did not respond to requests for comment on his stance on Question 6.
• Gov. Brian Sandoval: “I am fully aware that increasing the RPS as proposed in this bill is very popular, and under different circumstances, I would support this bill,” Sandoval said after he vetoed the 2017 bill.
• Paul Anderson, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development: “Assembly Bill 206 will only drive up the cost of power to energy consumers,” Anderson said shortly after Sandoval vetoed the 2017 bill.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.