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New group could spend unprecedented $30 million against energy deregulation ballot question

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels

A group of major Nevada political and business figures, including NV Energy, are mounting the first serious opposition to a ballot measure that would fundamentally restructure and “deregulate” Nevada’s electric market, with sources saying the group has pledged to spend an unprecedented $30 million to defeat the measure.

The group, Coalition to Defeat Question 3, announced Monday that it would be opposing the Energy Choice Initiative on the 2018 ballot. The initiative, which passed on a 72 to 28 percent margin and attracted little fanfare in 2016, would require the state to amend its constitution, ending NV Energy’s monopoly on the electrical market and creating a new retail market by 2023.

Backers of the new group include Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Republican state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, IGT chair and former NV Energy and Harrah's chair Phil Satre, former Secretary of State Frankie Sue Del Papa, former Clark County commissioner Bruce Woodbury, Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell and AFL-CIO head Rusty McAllister.

The group also has retained one of the country's leading ballot measure consulting firms, Winner & Mandabach, which has done a lot of work in Nevada.

“Question 3 would cost Nevada consumers and taxpayers billions and would inhibit the great strides that our state has made in new business development and diversification, including Nevada’s progress toward a renewable energy future,” Satre said in a statement.

In a statement, NV Energy spokeswoman Andrea Smith confirmed that the utility was involved in the ballot effort.

"Over the last few months, we’ve participated in lengthy discussions with many stakeholders who have become increasingly concerned about Question 3 and the risks, costs and uncertainties of this proposed Constitutional Amendment," she said in an email.  "NV Energy is joining the Coalition to Defeat Question 3 to make sure all Nevadans have the facts about this very complicated issue that has the potential to dismantle an electric system that has, and will continue to provide low costs, increased clean energy production, great customer service and industry-leading reliability.”

The Energy Choice Initiative has largely been bankrolled by a handful of major Southern Nevada companies, primarily the Las Vegas Sands ($2.35 million) and Switch ($1.7 million), with smaller donations coming from the Valley Electric Association ($100,000) and MGM Resorts ($10,000). Retired Democratic Sen. Harry Reid also endorsed the measure.

Backers of the initiative, including former FERC chairman Jon Wellinghof, have said that transitioning to retail markets will both spur innovation in the electric sector and give consumers both lower power bills and the ability to choose their own electric provider. Critics have raised concerns about Nevada’s ability to transition to a retail market, given its part-time Legislature and the fact that few states have moved to retail markets since the early 2000s.

The amount of money pledged to defeat the ballot question dwarfs contributions to recent Nevada ballot measures. A group supporting an expanded gun background check measure in 2016 reported raising $17.5 million last cycle; the measure narrowly passed, but has not been implemented.

Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana raised $2.9 million last election cycle. Their ballot measure passed by a comfortable margin.

Nevada officials have already begun pre-planning next steps if the initiative passes again in 2018. Gov. Brian Sandoval created a 25-member committee that has met regularly through 2017 and 2018 to discuss best practices for transitioning to a retail market, and the Nevada Public Utilities Commission is currently holding workshops

The measure garnered less money and attention than marijuana and gun background check measures in the 2016 campaign cycle, and NV Energy — which stands to lose the most from opening the markets — maintained a neutral stance on the bill. But they’ve become increasingly vocal against the measure as it’s worked its way through the planning committee.

Disclosure: Many Indy donors are mentioned in this story. You can see a full list of donors here.

Updated at 3:29 p.m. to correct a quote from NV Energy spokeswoman Andrea Smith.


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