The November 8 election yielded surprising results for controversial energy-related measures in three states.
In Florida, voters rejected Amendment 1, a measure backed by utilities to curb the expansion of resident-owned solar rooftop installations. In Washington, the nation’s first state attempt to impose a carbon tax on fossil fuels and power generated from fossil fuels fell flat. And in Nevada, voters overwhelmingly approved energy market deregulation.
Florida Defeats Rooftop Solar–Limiting Amendment
Voters in the Sunshine State defeated a measure that would have constitutionalized the right to own or lease solar equipment for personal use, but that also would have prevented the subsidization of solar energy.
The defeat of “Florida Solar Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use Initiative” (Amendment 1) on November 8 by a slim 51% to 49% vote was largely seen as a “David v. Goliath” victory over the initiative that was supported by Consumers for Smart Solar, which reportedly had funding from the state’s largest-investor-owned utilities.
The measure was opposed by the solar industry and a number of environmental groups, organizations, associations, and businesses. Those groups argued that Amendment 1 was put on the ballot by utility companies to protect interests in the energy market, and that the measure was designed to inhibit net metering.
Washington Rejects Carbon Tax
Voters in Washington on November 8 rejected Initiative 732, which sought to apply a tax on the sale or use of coal, natural gas, petroleum and petroleum products, motor vehicle fuel, aircraft fuel, and any form of fuel derived from those products.
Though the campaign supporting the initiative reportedly raised double the contributions raised by opponents, a stunning 58.4% of voters rejected the measure, while 41.5% voted yes.
The measure was also notably opposed by a number of progressive and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Washington’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, owing mostly to budgetary issues. Opponents highlighted concerns that the initiative could result in about $200 million in lost revenue per year in its first four years, disputing claims by supporters that the measure would be revenue neutral. The Sierra Club said in a statement: “At a time when our state needs additional revenue to fund education, parks, environmental programs, and social services, we are concerned about any projected revenue cuts.”
The initiative would have made Washington the first U.S. state with a carbon tax. British Columbia, Washington’s Canadian neighbor, implemented a carbon tax in 2008, and the province’s tax served as a base model for Washington’s Initiative 732.
Initiative 732 would have established a tax on carbon emissions at $15 per metric ton of emissions in July 2017, $25 in July 2018, and then 3.5% plus inflation each year until the tax reached $100 per metric ton, according to Ballopedia.
Nevada Voters Approve Deregulation
In Nevada, voters overwhelmingly chose to require the Nevada Legislature to establish an open, competitive retail electric energy market, reduce energy market rules, and prohibit energy monopolies.
About 72% of voters on November 8 approved of the “Nevada Legislature to Minimize Regulations on the Energy Market and Eliminate Legal Energy Monopolies Amendment,” also known as “Question 3.”
Nevada utilities are currently allowed to establish monopolies in their geographic service areas, and utility prices and energy policies are regulated by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. In 2016, NV Energy dominated about 90% of the state’s energy market. However, the utility reportedly adopted a neutral stance on the amendment.
Now that the measure has received a majority vote, it must pass through another round of voting in 2018 before the state Legislature will be required to pass a bill to create an open, competitive electricity market by July 2023.
The measure was backed by Nevadans for Affordable Clean, Energy Choices—an organization whose contributors include Switch, Las Vegas Sands Corp., and MGM Resorts International—as well as Tesla Motors, and handful of solar firms, Walmart, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D), according to Ballotpedia.
Supporters argued that the measure would lower electricity prices via market competition. It would also provide more access to renewable energy. It was set in motion after some major casinos and other large companies expressed interest in more control and flexibility over their power supply. MGM, for example, this July expanded a solar installation on the rooftop of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The solar array has a capacity of 8.3 MW, and at full production, supplies about 25% of demand at the entire Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino campus.
The measure was opposed by Nevada State AFL-CIO, the state arm of a nationwide trade union. The group argued that deregulation would result in job losses and benefit large companies while increasing rates for residential customers.
—Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)
Updated on Nov. 10, 2016, with details of Nevada’s state ballot measure