The recent messaging from the campaign opposing the Energy Choice Initiative is simple — don’t let Nevada become like California.
The messaging from the group supporting the Energy Choice Initiative is also simple — don’t let Nevada become like California.
Somehow, both sides of the expensive and contentious fight over Question 3, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Nevada to drop its monopoly energy market structure and create a competitive retail market by 2023, have adopted similar messaging strategies warning voters about the dangers of following the state’s western neighbor in energy policy.
The Coalition to Defeat Question 3, the NV Energy-funded group opposing the ballot question, began running television ads last week warning that California’s effort to open up wholesale energy markets in the late 1990s led to “higher rates, rolling blackouts, consumer fraud and the Enron energy resale scandal.”
But on Thursday, Nevadans for Affordable Clean Energy Solutions — the Las Vegas Sands and Switch-funded group backing the initiative — began running Facebook ads that flatly state “Don’t let Nevada become California. Vote for Energy Choice.”
Many factors led to California’s energy crisis in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including flaws in the state’s 1996 “deregulation” bill, a lack of available generating capacity and widespread market manipulation by wholesale energy sellers including Enron, Duke Energy and Reliant that made billions of dollars by selling electricity to utilities, which were prohibited from raising capped electricity prices.
Backers of the initiative have said the California comparison isn’t fair, given improvements in regulatory oversight granted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2005 and from examples in the 17 other states that have moved to a competitive retail market.
So why did both sides of the ballot question tack warnings about California into their messaging?
Bradley Mayer, a spokesperson for the pro-Energy Choice group, said the messaging was a response to the opposing group’s ad, citing difficulties facing a San Diego group in setting up a government-run electricity program known as community choice aggregation in spite of opposition from incumbent utilities.
“California doesn’t have real energy choice nor have they ever,” he said in an email. “They have monopolies with double the price of Nevada and some of their municipalities are fighting for choice too. So voting Yes on 3 is a vote to not let Nevada become California’s energy market.”
Coalition to Defeat Question 3 campaign manager Peter Koltak called the ad “clumsy.”
“Despite the proponents’ clumsy attempt to deceive voters, the fact is that California’s experiment with electricity deregulation failed,” Koltak said in an email. “We encourage Nevada voters to look into the facts on how deregulation in California led to skyrocketing rates, rolling blackouts, the Enron scandal, and cost consumers and taxpayers more than $40 billion.”
The similar ads are just the latest salvo in what is likely to be one of the more expensive campaigns on the 2018 Nevada ballot. NV Energy has more than $12 million into the group opposing the ballot question, while the Las Vegas Sands and Switch have contributed more than $19 million to help pass it again in 2018 after it was approved by 72 to 28 percent in 2016.
Disclosure: Switch and NV Energy have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.