Clean energy advocates turned out en masse to a meeting of the Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday to heap praise upon NV Energy for promising to invest more in renewables.
Back in June, NV Energy unveiled its latest “integrated resource plan” — a lengthy, wonky document it is required to submit to its regulatory body every three years. The plan promises $2.175 billion in clean-energy investments, including six new projects that would ensure the company reaches 32 percent renewable energy by 2023. It also accelerates the closure of the state’s one coal plant.
However, the plan comes with one major caveat. The utility doesn’t have to go through with its proposed projects if Question 3 passes.
Also known as the Energy Choice Initiative, Question 3 is a ballot measure that would trigger the creation of an open energy marketplace by the state legislature, effectively ending the regulated monopoly currently enjoyed by NV Energy. The utility is the primary backer of the “No on 3” campaign. Supporting Question 3 and the “Yes on 3” campaign are data giant Switch and Las Vegas Sands Corp.
None of the speakers at the PUC meeting Wednesday mentioned this 300-kilowatt elephant in the room. Instead, they focused on the economic, environmental and health benefits of renewable energy. And they also made light of the fact their groups have historically been critical of NV Energy.
“We’re happy to see the utility move in this direction,” Mary House, the CEO of Caring, Helping, and Restoring Lives, told the PUC. “It was not too long ago that we were here in opposition to some of their rate proposals.”
House also delivered a 7,200-signature petition in support of clean energy policy.
The petition and speakers were organized by Renew NV, a partnership focused on “the clean energy economy.” The organizations within Renew reflect the wide range of opinions regarding Question 3 and what it will could potentially do for Nevadans.
One partner, Sierra Club, announced its opposition to Question 3 in a joint statement along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and Western Resource Advocates back in July. Sierra Club said Question 3 “threatens all of Nevada’s clean energy momentum, and that’s bad for jobs, it’s bad for public health, and it’s bad for clean air and water.”
On the flip side, the Las Vegas Urban League endorsed Question 3, saying its passage “will create competition, lower all Nevadan’s power bills and expand clean energy in our state.”
Floating somewhere in the middle are Nevada Conservation League and Chispa Nevada, a Latino-focused arm of the League of Conservation Voters. Both have decided to remain neutral on Question 3 but have endorsed Question 6, a separate ballot initiative which would require all electric utilities to acquire at least 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
While the integrated resource plan promises an increase in renewable energy, its goal is less aggressive than what most clean energy advocates want. NV Energy’s latest integrated resource plan outlines how the company can get to 32 percent renewable energy by 2023. The utility is currently around 23.8 percent and is already required to reach 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.
Andy Maggi, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League, says the fact NV Energy’s plan doesn’t meet the proposed standards within Question 6 don’t negate the fact that it’s a step in the right direction and worthy of praise.
If Question 6 passes, then NV Energy will simply have to exceed what’s in its integrated resource plan. And if Question 3 passes and NV Energy cancels its proposed renewable projects? Well, the state will be starting from scratch anyway.
Maggi adds that the 2017 legislature tackled nearly a dozen bills related to clean energy and the environment with positive results. That reassures him the legislature could handle a restructuring of the energy marketplace if Question 3 passes.
“We have great legislative partners,” he says.
Chispa Nevada Director Rudy Zamora says his organization was advised by legal counsel to stay neutral if it wants to remain available to be a resource for the state lawmakers, who may or may not be working on a lot of energy policy during the next two legislative sessions.
Environmental groups aren’t the only ones split on how to feel about Question 3. The Clark County Education Association and the Nevada State Education Association, two unions representing teachers, are divided. The former supports “Yes on 3” while the latter supports “No on 3.”
Beyond endorsements, much of what people want to know about Question 3 — whether it would raise or lower rates, whether it would benefit the everyday consumer or just the large corporations — remains unknown, dependent upon how a marketplace would ultimately be established and re-regulated if voters approve the constitutional amendment in November.
In the meantime, the PUC is reviewing testimony and information related to NV Energy’s integrated resource plan. They have until the end of the calendar year to approve it.