At the ballot box this November, Nevada residents will be asked to make a decision that will affect their energy delivery for years to come.
If approved, Question 3, also known as The Energy Choice Initiative, would change the fundamental way Nevadans essentially turn on the lights.
Passage of the question would amend the state constitution to give consumers a choice regarding their energy provider.
“Question 3 doesn't actually implement any specific policies – it merely mandates that lawmakers create and implement policies to provide for competition in the energy market,” said Michael Schaus, communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute and executive director of National Employee Freedom.
Those for and against the change have battled for months on what approval would mean. Opponents of the measure say it would increase the utility bills of residents and potentially set back plans for more sustainable energy production. On the other side, people and groups backing the change say that energy bills would, in fact, go down because of the increased competition.
The question then is, which side is right? Or perhaps, which is closer to the truth?
It’s a question that The Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities (or the Guinn Center) sought to answer. According to its website, “The Guinn Center is a nonprofit, bipartisan research and policy analysis center that provides independent, data-driven, and well-reasoned analysis of critical policy issues that advance solutions toward a vibrant Nevada and Intermountain West region.”
Last month, it released a report entitled "Restructuring the Electricity Market in Nevada." The conclusion that the report came to was that there is no hard and fast answer to the questions voters have.
The report stated that it was difficult to say what would happen to rates if the measure passed or failed.
“Given that the evidence we reviewed is comparative and historical, rather than predictive, we cannot demonstrate conclusively that energy choice (Question 3) is either 'good' or 'bad' for Nevada," it says in its conclusion. "That can be known only with the wisdom of hindsight."
The Guinn Center notes, however, that the transition to a restructured (or "energy choice") electricity "is accompanied by variability in rate behavior, implementation challenges, and, for residential ratepayers, increased uncertainty resulting from heightened exposure to wholesale electric prices.”
People on both sides quickly moved to claim the results of the report as proof that their argument was the right one.
Elspeth DiMarzio, a Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign representative, said "the Guinn report highlights that there is no correlation between restructuring electricity markets and increases in new renewable energy development. Our priority is for accelerating the transition to clean energy in order to create new jobs, keep rates affordable, and protect our air and water. Voting no on Question 3 and yes on Question 6 is the surest path forward for clean energy in Nevada."
Others believe that the outstanding questions surrounding the issue are in some ways intentional and unavoidable. “…Regardless of whether or not Question 3 passes, the future of Nevada's energy market is – and will continue to be – in the hands of Nevada's elected officials. The question voters are faced with this November, through a constitutional amendment, is whether or not lawmakers should be given a deadline and a mandate to tackle the issue,” Schaus said.
That deadline would be a fast approaching one. If passed, Question 3 would give lawmakers until 2023 to restructure the state’s energy market. It’s a deadline with added pressure as NV Energy, the state’s biggest provider, has said that if the question passes, it will sell off its assets and cease doing business in the state.
While proponents for and against the change battle to capture parts of the report for their interests, consumers may take note of one item most directly tied to their fate. The report surmises that if Question 3 passes, the Public Utilities Commission “…likely would no longer be able to intervene to protect consumers against higher rates, as that could undermine the intent of the initiative petition.”
For their part, the report providers indicate that this ballot battle may be just the first tough campaign for those seeking to change the energy landscape in the state. They point to the fact that only 14 other states have made an energy shift like this through legislation and it took one of them, Pennsylvania, 16 years to complete the process.
“It is difficult to speak to the nature of the uncertainty, as Nevada is the only state to have pursued restructuring its electric utility service through its Constitution. In general, policy changes are inherently uncertain and can have unintended consequences. The Nevada Legislature would be required to implement the provisions of the ballot initiative, and based on our report, other states encountered challenges in the implementation phase,” said Meredith A. Levine, director of Economic Policy at the Guinn Center.