Arizona and Nevada to Vote on Renewable Energy Initiatives

Voters in two Western states next month will determine whether to require energy utilities to increase their share of electricity from renewable sources to 50 percent by 2030. In Arizona, the campaign has become the costliest in state history.

5 minute read

October 19, 2018, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Rooftop Solar

Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office / Flickr

NextGen Climate Action, a political action group launched by environmentalist Tom Steyer's NextGen America, wants to see states adopt tougher Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that would require energy utilities to derive a higher percentage of the electricity they sell from renewable sources by a target date in order to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states and the District of Columbia had adopted RPS as of July 20, although eight had voluntary goals. The strongest were Hawaii, at 100 percent by 2045, and New York and California, at the goal set by NextGen: 50 percent by 2030. Last month, California joined Hawaii in adopting the same target when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 100 by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

"Roughly half of all growth in U.S. renewable electricity generation and capacity since 2000 is associated with state RPS requirements," according to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report [pdf] released in July 2017.

NextGen Climate Action chose three states, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan, all of which had existing RPS, to increase the required percentage of renewable energy to fifty percent by 2030.

The state's largest public utility, NV Energy, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary providing 90 percent of Nevada's electricity, had not taken a position on the initiative as of Sept. 24, according to James DeHaven of the Reno Gazette Journal. "The measure faces little organized opposition and is widely expected to pass in November. If so, it would have to survive a second vote in 2020 before becoming law."

The reason for the low profile appears to be it's heavy investment in fighting Question 3, also an initiated constitutional amendment, which "would kill NV Energy’s electric power monopoly and allow consumers to pick their own power provider by 2023," reported DeHaven on Oct. 8. The measure "is by far the best-funded, highest-profile measure on November’s ballot."

"A host of prominent clean energy and environmental groups have joined NV Energy in opposing Question 3," adds DeHaven on Sept. 24. "Question 6 enjoys support from a similar set of organizations, among them the Sierra Club, the Nevada Conservation League and Western Resource Advocates."

In Arizona, Proposition 127, an initiated constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot calling for 50 percent renewable energy generation by 2030 for public utilities, is being fiercely fought by the state's major utility, Arizona Public Service Co. (APS). The state's RPS calls for 15 percent renewables by 2025. Currently, the nation's sunniest state only gets 6 percent of its power from the sun.

The parent company of APS, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., has spent almost $22 million through Sept. 30 to oppose the initiative, while the NextGen group, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, has spent almost $18 million, according to Ryan Randazzo, business reporter for The Arizona Republic.

Renewable vs. carbon-free

Should Prop. 127 pass, APS warns that the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the largest power plant in the U.S. by output, averaging 3.3 gigawatts, that serves 4 million people, could be forced to close, reported Randazzo in April. While nuclear power is carbon-free, it is not renewable.

The nuclear plant is a crown jewel for the utility, generating about one-fourth of its energy supply. The three nuclear generators are co-owned by seven utilities in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

The company also warns that other "base-load" suppliers, like coal-burning power plants, would also be forced to close, which is what the proponents want due to coal being the most polluting fossil fuel. They contest the claim that Palo Verde would close.

Effective or pragmatic?

A related post in March 2017, "Surprising Trump Effect: Many States Seek to Ramp-Up Renewable Energy Mandates," questions the popularity of renewable portfolio standards. While effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is not the best tool, according to Jay Apt, co-director of the Electricity Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University. But from a political perspective, meaning how good a chance it stands of being passed into law, they do well, he adds.

"Many economists would prefer a carbon tax or cap-and-trade regimen to a mandate," reports Benjamin Storrow for E&E News in the source article (paywalled). 

A carbon price is more flexible and less costly, they reason. Instead of requiring power companies to adopt technologies like wind and solar, a cap or tax leaves it to the market to identify the least-costly compliance options.

While not a carbon tax, Initiative 1631 on the Washington state ballot next month (posted here in August) is a carbon fee and operates much the same way.

The National Resources Defense Council and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club [pdf] support Prop. 127 while Tucson Electric Power and Chicanos Por La Causa oppose it.  

Related in Planetizen:

Hat tip to Ballotpedia.

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