Energy choice, renewable energy rule debated at Carson City forum
Supporters of the energy choice ballot question say a competitive market will lower electric prices and encourage expansion of renewable power sources.
Opponents say the proposed constitutional amendment will increase costs for residential customers and do nothing to increase the percentage of renewables in Nevada.
Jon Wellinghof representing supporters of the proposal said a recent example he was shown indicates a woman in Texas is paying roughly half what she would pay in Nevada under NV Energy because Texas is a choice state. He said claims there will be rolling blackouts and instability in the market if Question 3 passes are false.
And he said the issue belongs in the state constitution because access to power “is a fundamental right, a property right.”
He said Nevadans are entitled to have a choice instead of having to get their power solely from NV Energy.
But Anne Macquarie of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club said every state that has implemented choice has seen residential and small business rates increase, not decrease. And she said they’re concerned about the uncertainty of rates for those customers.
“Rates could go up or down with the restructuring and we can’t know (what will happen to rates yet),” she said.
She said Nevada’s rates are already 17 percent below the national average and, in fact, have gone down since 2009.
She also said restructured states have had to repeatedly amend their laws to make the open market work but she said that would be impossible if the language was put into the state constitution since any changes would require six years.
While Macquarie said people will have great difficulty wading through multiple and often complex offers from companies seeking to sell them electric power, Wellinghof said there will be groups putting together “buying clubs” that will assist people in selecting the right power source at the best rates.
After Wellinghof argued NV Energy is the primary funding source for opponents, he was asked where his funding comes from. He said mostly from the Las Vegas Sands corporation and Switch.
He pointed out Question 3 doesn’t deregulate the electric power industry. He said it will still be heavily regulated by the state Public Utilities Program that must license those power providers.
Macquarie said a total of 22 states enacted some form of energy choice but that number has dropped to just 14 because after several states repealed their laws. Again, she said, if the choice is put into the state constitution, repeal would take up to six years.
The forum sponsored by a half dozen organizations also heard arguments for and against Question 6, the constitutional change that would mandate half of Nevada’s electric power come from renewable sources by 2030.
Ari Fleisig of Sierra Club said that question has nothing to do with energy choice. She said NV Energy buys and Nevadans pay for upward of $700 million a year in fossil fuels each year and Nevadans strongly support expanding the use of renewables instead.
“We have over 300 days of sun a year and are the second richest geothermal state,” she said. “The free market is kind of screaming at us to do more.”
Ron Knecht, saying he was opposing the question as a citizen and not as state controller, said Question 6 is, “exactly the kind of thing that does not belong in any government constitution.”
Knecht said the legislature should be asked to fix this provision because, as with Question 3, it would take at least six years to correct any flaws.
“Until then we’d be stuck,” he said.
Knecht said Question 6 would end up heavily litigated.
He added NV Energy might not be able to make that 50 percent mark.
Fleisig said right now Nevada gets 20-plus percent of power from renewables and NV Energy hasn’t had any problems meeting the existing renewable standards that call for 25 percent by 2025.
The arguments were presented to a full house at the Brewery Arts Center to a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, American Association of University Women, Partnership Carson City, Carson City Arts and Culture coalition, radio KNVC, Sierra Nevada Forums and PFLAG.