Though vote-counting continued in the tight presidential race on Nov. 5, voters in Nevada and New Mexico appear to have made headway on crucial energy initiatives on the ballot.
Nevada Approves a 50% by 2030 RPS
In Nevada, the presidential race remained closely contested on Thursday morning with pundits predicting that a victory there for Democrat Joe Biden could win him the White House. However, voters cemented their approval of an initiated constitutional amendment that will require electric utilities in the state to acquire 50% of their power from renewable resources by 2030.
Nevada is one of 18 states that have a provision for initiated constitutional amendments, which means voters must approve changes to state constitutions. In Nevada, signatures equaling 10% of the number of voters from the last preceding election must be collected to qualify an amendment on the ballot, and if an initiated amendment wins in one election, it must win again at the next general election in an even-numbered year for it to become part of the constitution.
Voters, which approved Nevada’s Question 6, the “Renewable Energy Standard Initiative,” in 2018, on Nov. 3 secured passage for the amendment. While the measure garnered about 60% of Nevada’s backing in 2018, in 2020, it got 56% of the vote, according to unofficial results posted by Nevada’s Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.
It means that starting in 2022, all power providers in the state will incrementally increase the share of renewables—which includes biomass, geothermal energy, solar energy, waterpower, and wind—from 29%, as is currently required by state law, to 50% by 2030.
The state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), notably, had already been expanded to 50% by 2030 by Nevada’s Legislature (via Senate Bill 358) in 2019. The Legislature also determined that energy efficiency measures can be used to comply with up to 10% of the annual RPS requirement.
According to the state’s most recent energy update, about 89% of the state’s electrical power was provided by NV Energy (through subsidiaries Sierra Pacific Power and Nevada Power Co.) in 2018. About 6% came from electric cooperatives, and the remainder from businesses, general improvement districts, municipal utilities, and others. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that in July 2020, about 67% of Nevada’s net power generation came from gas-fired power plants; 6% from coal; 5% from hydropower; and the remainder from non-hydro renewables.
NV Energy, the state’s largest generator, on Oct. 27 notably issued a request for proposals to add new renewable energy projects to its portfolio in response to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada’s (PUCN’s) December 2019 approval of 1,190 MW of new solar power and 590 MW of battery storage to be built in Nevada and serving customers by Jan. 1, 2024. NV Energy said that it has so far broken ground on 1 GW of new renewable projects approved by the PUCN in December 2018 in a bid to put them online by the end of 2021.
Shakeup for New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission
Meanwhile, a little more than 55% of voters in New Mexico approved a constitutional amendment to change the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) from an elected five-member commission to an appointed three-member commission.
The measure stems from reforms championed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who alleged the PRC has been slow to act on the state’s mandate that requires investor-owned utilities in New Mexico to generate 50% of their power from renewables by 2030, and to become 100% carbon-free by 2045.
Supporters of the initiative had argued putting professionals, not politicians, at the helm of the 1996-established commission will better enable it to oversee regulation of public utilities, including rates and services provided by electric, pipeline, transportation, and telecom companies.
“An elected commission is a political commission, and the PRC may be even more so, because its members are elected to represent specific districts in the state,” argued the New Mexico Legislative Council Service, the state’s legal research agency. “When elected members represent districts instead of the entire state, their focus may be on regional electoral politics rather than the interests of ratepayers throughout the state. By insulating the commission from electoral politics, the commissioners may be better able to carry out their quasi-judicial duties in an unbiased fashion.”
However, the measure had been opposed by members of the PRC itself. Chairman Steve Fischmann warned: “With Amendment 1 in place, it’s not difficult to imagine utilities leveraging contributions to Gubernatorial and legislative leadership PACs [political action committees] to select the commissioners that regulate them. Our current elected PRC commissioners are not allowed to take direct contributions from utilities. But utilities can create their own PACs to support candidates through independently produced ads.”
According to Ballotpedia, as of 2020, 11 states, including New Mexico and neighboring Arizona, require the election of public service commissioners. Of the remaining states, 37 have governor-appointed commissions, and two—Virginia and South Carolina—have a legislature-appointed commission.
—Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine).