Clean Energy Ballot Initiatives Suffer Losses in Midterms

In last week's midterm elections, most of the state ballot initiatives pertaining to clean energy suffered losses, though renewable power supporters cheered at the results in Nevada and in some key governor races.

In Washington, voters rejected Initiative 1631, which would have imposed a carbon fee on fossil-fuel emissions, according to the Seattle Times. The measure would have raised money from carbon fees to invest in projects aimed to reduce the state’s carbon emissions from 2018 levels by a minimum of 20 million metric tons by 2035 and a minimum of 50 million metric tons by 2050.

According to the Seattle Times, the measure would have taken effect in 2020, and carbon fees would have increased each year, raising more than $1 billion annually by 2023.

“The issue is not going away, and neither are we,” the campaign’s spokesman, Nick Abraham, wrote in a concession email to the Seattle Times. “We stand ready to fight in next year’s legislature and beyond.”

Two public utility districts in southeast Washington opposed the initiative, according to the Tri-City Herald. The Benton Public Utility District Commission maintained that costs would have increased between $1 million and $2.1 million in 2020, which would be reflected in consumers’ electric rates. The Franklin PUD Commission said the immediate impact would have been $700,000 to $1 million per year initially, or about a 1 percent rate increase.

“Climate change is a complicated policy issue, and because the policy will affect the entire economy, there can be unintended consequences without a fully informed analysis of the policy,” Washington energy company Avista Corp. said in a statement to Utility Dive. “We feel that addressing climate change in a way that balances financial impacts and a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is best addressed by the legislature.”

In Arizona, voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 127, according to the Arizona Republic. The measure would have replaced the state’s current plan for transitioning nongovernmental electric utilities to renewable energy with a constitutional mandate that 50 percent of the retail energy sales of these utilities come from certain types of renewable energy by 2030—the current plan increases use of the same types of renewable energy from 8 percent this year to 15 percent in 2025. Proposition 127 would have also mandated these utilities increase their use of distributed renewable energy to 10 percent by 2030.

UNS Energy, which owns Tucson Electric Power, said the measure would have raised the average residential customer bill by $500 annually and the average commercial bill by more than $3,000 annually, according to Utility Dive. Proposition 127 might have also forced Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) to close its Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station and lay off more than 3,000 workers.

APS’s CEO Don Brandt told Arizona Republic the company would seek public input regarding its plans for renewable energy.

“The campaign is over, but we want to continue the conversation with Arizonans about clean energy and identify specific opportunities for APS to build energy infrastructure that will position Arizona for the future,” Brandt said.

Two measures in Nevada received mixed results. The state’s Question 3, the Energy Choice Initiative, failed by a large margin, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. The constitutional amendment would have allowed Nevadans to purchase energy from an open electricity market, doing away with NV Energy’s regulated energy monopoly.

“A multimillion-dollar campaign clash over the proposed constitutional amendment flooded Nevada’s airwaves with competing claims about how much the measure could cost ratepayers and what impacts it might have on the state’s rooftop solar providers,” writes James DeHaven of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

However, Nevada voters overwhelmingly passed Question 6, a renewable energy initiative. The measure requires electricity providers to get at least 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources like solar, wind and geothermal by the year 2030. Its passage doesn't mean it is law, though. Due to Nevada law, constitutional amendments must pass in two consecutive elections, so the ultimate fate of Question 6 will be up to voters in 2020.

Meanwhile, supporters of renewable energy celebrated over key governors races, according to Utility Dive.

In Illinois, Democrat Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker wants to double the current 25 percent renewable standard by 2025, and then have 100 percent renewables by 2050.

“Illinois currently gets about 6% of its power from renewables, and it remains unclear how Pritzker will square his plan with the state’s nuclear fleet, which currently provides the state with more than half of its electricity,” Utility Dive's Gavin Bade writes.

Democrat Governor-elect Jared Polis in Colorado is calling for 100 percent renewable energy by 2040; Democrat Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico wants 50 percent renewables by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040; Democrat Governor-elect Janet Mills in Maine endorses a 100 percent clean energy goal by 2050 and advocates expanding distributed generation; and Democrat Governor-elect Steve Sisolak in Nevada supported the renewables ballot initiative and is now advocating for the constitutional amendment.

“In each of those states, the newly elected governors will come into office with one-party rule—Democrats controlling both houses of the state legislatures—which may make it easier to enact their energy agendas,” Bade writes. “If that happens, it could mean fewer costly fights over clean energy ballot initiatives in the future, which delivered mixed results Tuesday night.”

About the Author

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than three decades of experience writing about the construction industry, and her articles have been featured in the Associated General Contractor’s Constructor magazine, the American Fence Association’s Fencepost, the...

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