Fred LaSor: Looking at the ballot questions
October 17, 2018
Early voting starts soon, with six ballot questions Nevada voters will be deciding on Nov. 6. There's not space here to look closely at all six, but two deserve scrutiny.
Judging by the vast advertising it has garnered in the past two months, Question Three is the most important. It's a proposal to amend the Nevada Constitution "to require the Legislature to provide by law for the establishment of an open, competitive retail electric energy market …"
The airwaves and social media sites on the internet have been filled with advertisements urging us to "vote no" on this question. The reasons given are it's opposed by a wide variety of groups, from Firefighters to the Sierra Club, AARP, a university economist, and others. Having such a variety of opponents ought to be persuasive. But one has to wonder why this wide range of opponents has all lined up to be counted. "Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Sources" is pushing the effort. Google them and you're sent to the Nevada Conservation League, a Las Vegas-based advocacy group.
The most persuasive argument they muster is this matter shouldn't be handled by a constitutional amendment, which will be harder to overturn if we discover in a few years we don't like the results. Ironically enough, Question Six (see below) is favored by many of the same parties, and it too would be implemented by amending the Constitution. We don't hear the same opposition to this process when applied to Question Six.
Returning to Question Three, allowing open competition is frequently a good way of reducing consumer prices. The cost of TVs is an example: as new technology and more producers entered the market, the price of large-screen TVs plummeted. The same might well be the case with electricity.
But two things might impede this in Nevada: the low demand from our rural areas, and the demand from neighboring California for cheaper (and possibly "green") electricity to satisfy its own legislative mandates. In fact, I suspect the California market is partially driving Questions Three and Six.
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Given the enormous amount of money that has been spent opposing this question I was initially tempted to vote Yes. The scare stories about rising electricity costs in states which have deregulated aren't convincing: deregulation should push prices down. Nor do I trust the motivation of the left-leaning groups opposing the question. But deep down, I don't think this issue should be handled with a constitutional amendment. I reluctantly conclude Question Three deserves a NO vote.
Question Six requires "providers of electric utility services who sell electricity . . . for consumption in Nevada [to] generate or acquire" increasingly more of that electricity from renewable sources, expanding to equal 50 percent of electricity sold by 2030. Part of the argument in favor of this question is Nevada has lots of sun, and tapping that energy (along with geothermal and wind) would bring large investment and 10,000 new jobs to our state. Backers of this question say it will result in cleaner air, and that renewable energy "from a new large-scale solar power plant" is 45-70 percent cheaper than electricity from a natural gas-fueled power plant. There should be no need for this proposal if solar generation will indeed be cheaper: market forces will drive future generation to renewables faster than any constitutional amendment, and allowing the market to dictate how electricity is generated is better than approving this question. Question Six also deserves a NO vote.
Of the other four Questions, only Two and Four deserve a YES vote. Read them to understand why.
Fred LaSor retired to Minden after a long career in the U.S. Foreign Service.