A constitutional battle is brewing in Nevada between the solar industry and the state’s monopolistic electric utility, NV Energy, and Reno attorney Matt Griffin is leading the charge.
Griffin helped formulate the Energy Choice Initiative, a ballot measure that would amend the state’s constitution and give residents and businesses freedom to choose their electricity supplier by 2023. Backers must gather 55,000 voter signatures to put the measure on the 2016 and 2018 general election ballots. If the measure passes, Nevada would become one of the West’s first states to allow retail energy choice, which will lower electricity costs, create jobs and support renewable energy technologies, Griffin asserts.
“With no competition, we’re going to be stuck in the energy system we’ve been in for 130 years.” – Matt Griffin
Barrick Gold is the only Nevada business that’s been able to build its own power plant and leave the power “grid,” or the power distribution system owned and operated by NV Energy. When other businesses such as MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts tried to break away from NV Energy, they were hit with $126 million in exit fees.
“It’s contentious. That’s one of the reasons for the initiative, but not the only reason,” Griffin says. “I have two kids, and it’s getting hot as hell outside. With no competition, we’re going to be stuck in the energy system we’ve been in for 130 years.”
The ballot measure is based on significant research from 16 states that already have an open market, which shows nearly 20 percent cost savings for consumers, Griffin notes. The Energy Choice Initiative does not deregulate the industry or change any laws, he points out. It simply drives down prices by giving people the option to shop for electricity, and it allows for cheaper and more abundant renewable energy.
“Change in energy regulation in Nevada is very difficult because an incumbent monopoly influences the conversation,” Griffin says.
Paul Caudill, president and CEO of NV Energy, says he isn’t surprised by the initiative, and the utility has no opinion on the amendment. “It’s a very complex issue, and we’re in no position right now to take a position,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in February.
The initiative is a high priority for companies such as Switch, a Nevada-based data center that was founded on “sustainable innovation and collaborative client ecosystems,” says Rob Roy, Switch’s founder and chief executive officer.
In early 2013, Switch saw major advantages in buying renewable energy through a competitive electricity market. The company has made a commitment to power all of its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy. “Being competitive in the markets we serve is extremely important for the win-win partnership landscape in which we thrive,” Roy says. “Nevada could create unparalleled opportunities in renewable energy that remain largely untapped due to a lack of forward-thinking energy policy.”
Another key business behind the initiative is Tesla, the electric car manufacturer that was granted millions of dollars in tax incentives to build its battery plant in Reno. Retail electricity choice is key for Tesla, not only for the company’s production facilities, but also for its customers to choose their fuel source.
“There are few more critical issues to Nevada’s future than clean and renewable energy. – Governor Sandoval
With businesses and consumers increasingly turning to solar power, and NV Energy heavily invested in the infrastructure necessary to distribute that power, there has to be some common ground. To that end, Governor Brian Sandoval in February reconvened the New Energy Industry Task Force to address issues such as net metering and the uproar over higher rates for solar customers.
The task force will work with Angela Dykema, director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy, to achieve the following goals:
Encourage development of clean energy sources and integrate renewable energy technologies into Nevada’s energy sector.
Create a modern, resilient and cost-effective energy grid.
Support distributed generation and storage with a specific focus on rooftop solar and net metering.
“There are few more critical issues to Nevada’s future than clean and renewable energy,” Sandoval says. “Not only does this sector drive many economic development opportunities, but it also helps us improve the quality of life for many Nevadans by helping keep our air clean, water fresh, and allows us to explore our unlimited potential in the wealth of renewables Nevada has to offer.”
NV Energy still owns the distribution lines for electricity in Nevada, so the initiative is more about choosing who puts the energy in those lines, Griffin says. Nevada is the nation’s sunniest state and the most active in geothermal energy with an abundance of natural resources, he adds.
“If you were to go back and wake up Alexander Graham Bell and he could see what’s happened with his telephone … that’s what you get when you allow America’s market to compete,” Griffin says. “Wake up Thomas Edison. Remember that idea you and Westinghouse had to deliver energy to the World Fair? The opportunity for Nevada to be out in front of the energy revolution could never be greater.”