Nevada Voters Approve Renewable Energy Mandate

Law360 (November 4, 2020, 9:04 AM EST) -- Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday that requires the state to get at least half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Voters gave the final OK to Question 6, known as the Nevada Renewable Energy Standards Initiative, by a margin of 56%-44%. Nevada constitutional amendments require voters to approve the measure twice. The initiative gained initial approval from nearly 60% of voters in 2018.

The now-approved ballot initiative was proposed by a group backed by billionaire environmentalist and onetime Democratic presidential hopeful Tom Steyer. Question 6 amends the state's constitution to boost the state's renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, to require utilities to draw 50% of their power from renewable sources by 2030.

The initiative doesn't stipulate what type of renewable energy must be used but mentions solar, wind and geothermal as generation options. Supporters of the ballot initiative argued that as one of the sunniest states, Nevada shouldn't be spending roughly $700 million a year to import energy derived from fossil fuels from other states when it could produce its own.

Beginning in 2022, the state must get 22% of its electricity from renewable sources, and the amendment increases the percentage incrementally over the following eight years until it reaches the 50% threshold. Legislation facilitating the adjustments must be implemented by July 2021 under the new law.

The Fiscal Analysis Division of the state Legislative Counsel Bureau said in 2018 that the proposal's financial impact couldn't be determined due to outstanding questions regarding how state lawmakers would implement the mandate and how it would affect the cost of electricity in Nevada.

After the initial vote, the proposal was made somewhat redundant in April 2019 when Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 358, which also commits the state to raising its RPS to 50% by 2030. But supporters of the amendment argued that adding the mandate to the constitution would ensure long-term stability for the state's clean energy trajectory should political winds ever shift.

The state's previous RPS required utilities to get 25% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

"We're lucky right now to have clean energy champions in the governor's office and legislature," Dylan Sullivan, a senior adviser for the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, told Law360. "But, if for some reason that changes, Question 6 will act as a backstop in just making sure that the state keeps on its path toward a clean electricity system."

Sullivan, who served as a member of the committee arguing in favor of Question 6, according to the Nevada secretary of state's website, added that the state's previous RPS "had a bunch of loopholes" and that the strong public support for Question 6 in 2018 made S.B. 358 possible. He said the bill applies similar standards to all types of electricity providers in the state, from big utilities like NV Energy to smaller electricity suppliers.

"The RPS in Question 6 is simple and clear and having that language really gives us a lot of leverage in trying to get a good policy that applies to everybody at the legislature," he said.

Meanwhile, opponents of the measure whose concerns were outlined in the 2020 Nevada Voter Guide argued that it could lead to an excess in solar energy and cause "grid glut." The committee opposed to Question 6, led by Donald Gary Gustavson, a former Republican member of the state Senate, additionally took issue with the initiative's backing from San Francisco billionaire Steyer.

Those opposing the measure argued that it would hinder Nevada lawmakers' ability to "judiciously apply" their own adjustments to the existing RPS as needed.

Former Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed a bill in June 2017 that would have boosted the RPS to 40% by 2030.

--Editing by Aaron Pelc.

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