By Craig A. Ruark
Just before the opening of early voting, energy experts and elected officials told a pair of forums that ballot Question 3 presents a rare opportunity for both consumers and the industry to stake out winning positions for the future.
Question 3 would authorize the Nevada Legislature to “minimize regulations on the Energy Market and eliminate legal energy monopolies.” If approved by voters, it would have to be voted on again in 2018 before it could be implemented in 2023.
On October 19th, the Nevada Energy Star Partners Green Alliance held a panel discussion titled “Nevada’s Energy Future.” Debbie Donaldson, publisher of the Las Vegas Business Press, asked panelists Dr. Patricia “Pat” Spearman, Nevada Senator District 1; Nat Hodgen, executive director of the Southern Nevada Home Builders; and Jessie Murray, director of renewable energy projects for NV Energy, to describe the current energy environment and what we need to do to prepare for the future.
The three speakers, though diverse in their backgrounds, were part of the “New Energy Industry Task Force” that was initiated by Gov. Brian Sandoval and worked toward solutions to grid modernization, carbon emissions, distributed generation and storage, and clean energy sources.
Based on the Task Force’s research and discussions, several recommendations have been sent to the governor for the 2017 legislative session. In addition, a plan for grandfathering residential rooftop solar customers (those who were on-line or had applied to be part of the solar program as of Dec. 31, 2015), was approved by Governor Sandoval. It will take effect in December 2016 and expire November 30, 2036.
Senator Spearman said she is planning several bills for presentation during the 2017 legislative session.
“The technologies that we have right now and those that which are on the horizon are changing, literally, in a nanosecond,” she said. “We don’t have legislative policies in place to address the question about [energy] storage adequately. Because we don’t have policies in place that address an integrated energy system that customers want to go to.” Spearman supports modifying the electrical grid to include distributive generation including geothermal and wind energy, and advocated for ‘out of the box’ thinking to prepare us for energy possibilities that are unthought of at this time.
On Oct. 20, Clean Energy Project, a non-profit organization, drew more than 100 people to the Switch Innevation Center in Las Vegas for a lunchtime session. The panel discussion was moderated by Rose McKinney-James, lobbyist and managing principal of Energy Works LLC, and included panel experts on distributive energy generation.
The topic title: “How will ballot initiative Question 3 ensure that clean energy development has a place in a well-regulated open market; and how will a restructured market ensure that all customers have the opportunity to access clean energy to power their homes and businesses?”
Adam Kramer, executive vice president of strategy for Switch, worked with environmental and consumer advocacy groups to develop the “Yes on Question 3” stance, answered: “The genesis of Question 3 is to deliver low-cost renewable energy to all Nevadans. As we begin talking about the restructuring and creation of a well-regulated open market, it is important that we do this in a way that is cognizant of the importance of renewables as well as the protection of all ratepayers here in Nevada.”
Switch along with MGM and Wynn Resorts have received approval from the Public Utilities Commission and to leave NV Energy’s grid. The Las Vegas Sands Corp. also filed an exit application that was approved by the PUC, but the company opted not to go forward.
John Hanger, an energy consultant and former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, described this initiative from his perspective is “A huge opportunity for clean energy, but it is also an opportunity for customers.”
Hanger cautioned that there are two important pieces that must be in place both for clean energy and for consumers to make “the power of choice” option work:
- You need to have a real-time market monitor — ‘the cop on the beat’ of the retail and wholesale energy market to protect consumers. “The recent changes at FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] are important, but you also need a local cop,” said Hanger
- On the demand side of the market, the cleanest energy source is energy efficiency so if you empower consumers with smart meters and thermostats to control their demand, it will help their pocketbook and will also help the air quality and the environment.
Gary Aksamit, founder of Americans for Electricity Choice, offered a glimpse at what the market could look like after restructuring.
Using Texas as an example, Aksamit suggested that consumers check out www.TexasPowerToChoose.org, a clearinghouse database of all of the retail power providers in the state of Texas and competing for consumers. (Readers can put in the zip code 75094 to see how the site works.)
“Once into the website,” said Aksamit. “You are going to find between 150 and 250 offers for your business.”
The consumers in Texas have the opportunity to choose everything from 100 percent renewable energy to energy based on the lowest cost per kilowatt hour. Consumers are also able to lock in rates for whatever period they choose, with, of course, a penalty for early cancellation.
This type of open market program, according to Aksamit, allows the consumer to choose the type of power and the price point that fits their budget and lifestyle. The drawback to this program is with all the choices afforded to the consumers, not everyone is going to have the knowledge or want to take the time to wade through all of the options. In that case, many consumers may just accept what the local utility is offering and call it good.
The idea behind Question 3 is to offer choice to those consumers that want choice and to begin to prepare Nevada for a progressive energy future. That’s a planning process that Senator Spearman stated “must start now.”