Tesla, one of the first proponents of the ballot measure to end NV Energy’s monopoly as the state’s sole energy supplier, has changed its position to neutral, a company spokesperson confirmed Thursday.
The company said it changed its position on Question 3, amid a hard-fought and expensive campaign, because of concerns about the uncertainty it presents to renewable energy and Tesla customers in Nevada.
“While we believe in open and competitive markets, Question 3 presents a number of uncertain impacts to our energy customers and the renewable energy industry in Nevada,” a Tesla spokesperson said in an email. “As a result, we have decided not to take a position on Question 3.”
One month after Question 3 backers announced the Energy Choice Initiative in 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a statement that “solar energy is the cheapest energy today in the state of Nevada and ‘Energy Choice’ will enable Tesla and all Nevadans to choose solar.”
But the decision to move a neutral track marks the latest defection or move to the sidelines on the high-stakes, high-priced battle over the ballot initiative, which passed 72 to 28 percent in 2016. NV Energy, the state’s primary electric utility, stayed neutral on the ballot question in 2016 but has come out in strong opposition this year, pledging to spend up to $30 million to defeat the measure.
Prominent state politicians such as Gov. Brian Sandoval and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak who supported the measure in 2016 now say that they’ve either moved to a neutral tack or are actively opposed to the initiative, which has been almost entirely funded by the Las Vegas Sands and Switch.
Endorsements from Tesla and SolarCity have not been removed from the Yes on 3 website as of Thursday morning. In response to the move, a spokesman for the PAC supporting the ballot measure linked to past quotes from Musk deriding monopolies.
“Unfortunately, NV Energy and their out of state corporate owners are spending millions spreading false information about energy choice,” Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices spokesman Bradley Mayer said in an email. “We understand that companies take positions on what is in their best business interest but we agree with Elon Musk when he said, “Monopolies are true enemy of people” and “What really matters is avoiding monopolies that restrict people’s freedom.”
A spokeswoman for the group opposing the initiative said they welcomed the company’s switch in position.
“We appreciate that Tesla has reconsidered their position on Question 3, particularly because of the risks and uncertainties that this flawed electricity deregulation proposal poses to tens of thousands of existing rooftop solar customers,” Coalition to Defeat Question 3 spokeswoman Tracy Skenandore said in an emailed statement. “Question 3 would also increase electric rates for all Nevadans and put our state’s promising clean energy future at risk.”
The statement came during a battle between NV Energy and rooftop solar companies led, in part, by SolarCity, where Musk served as chairman at the time. NV Energy had been pushing back on proposals to expand rooftop solar, arguing that it could cost other ratepayers. The solar firms argued that the utility and state energy regulators were not properly valuing rooftop solar.
Tesla, which operates a massive battery factory near Reno, has since acquired SolarCity.
Criticism from the solar industry has been blunted in the past two years, starting when regulators with the Public Utilities Commission agreed to “grandfather” in existing net metering customers at prior, more favorable rates in 2016. Lawmakers also approved a change to the state’s net metering law in 2017 that was widely applauded by the industry and has helped jumpstart new rooftop solar applications.
Disclosure: Many donors to The Nevada Independent are mentioned in this story. You can see a full list of donors here.
Updated at 12:00 p.m. to add a quote from Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices PAC. Updated at 9:50 a.m. on Friday to remove a reference to Rep. Dina Titus supporting the initative in 2016.