by Julia Pyper
April 28, 2018

Nevada’s electricity market could soon see a dramatic transformation if voters approve a ballot measure this November to shift from a monopoly utility structure to a competitive retail model. According to a new poll by website The Nevada Independent, respondents voted overwhelmingly favor of introducing energy choice. 

The same poll asked voters if they’d back a potential ballot measure that would raise the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030. That question also received strong support from respondents in favor of the policy change. 

Polling was conducted by The Mellman Group, which sampled 600 registered voters between April 12 and 19.

Results showed that voters approve of the Energy Choice Initiative on a margin of 54 percent to 16 percent, with 30 percent reporting that they are undecided on the proposed constitutional amendment. In 2016, the ballot questions passed on a 72 percent to 28 percent margin. Nevada law requires that constitutional amendments be approved twice in two even-numbered years in order to take effect.

The Energy Choice Initiative is based by resort developer Las Vegas Sands and data center Switch, two of the state’s largest corporate entities. The push for a competitive market comes after Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International opted to pay hefty exit fees — of $87 million and $15 million, respectively — in order to withdraw from NV Energy service, and instead purchase their power independently.

Switch has also sought to leave NV Energy’s purview. The data company’s first application was denied in 2015. As a result, Switch opted to work through the utility’s green rider program in order to procure the renewable energy. But when MGM and Wynn had their exit applications approved, Switch rebooted its efforts leave the utility monopoly. In 2016, Switch got the OK to depart for a $27 million fee. Earlier this year, Switch signed a deal with Global asset manager Capital Dynamics to build a giant solar power plant named Gigawatt 1, which is expected to become the largest solar project in the country.

NV Energy has been far less enthusiastic about the move to a competitive retail model, and has pledged to spend up to $30 million to defeat the Energy Choice Initiative.

In The Nevada Independent poll, voters were asked two questions on the energy choice ballot question — one of which included the text of the question as it appears on the ballot, with the other listing statements from supporters and opponents of the ballot question. After hearing arguments from both sides, respondents were more likely to support the ballot measure with a 64 percent net favorable rating, 14 percent unfavorable and 22 percent undecided. Support was high across all demographic groups and among Democrats, Republicans and independents. 

Similarly, a large percentage of voters indicated support for a still-pending ballot measure that would increase Nevada’s RPS from 25 percent by 2025, to 50 percent by 2030. Voters supported that proposed amendment on a 68 percent to 20 percent margin, with 12 percent undecided.

NextGen America, a group backed by California billionaire and political activist Tom Steyer, announced in February it would begin to collect signatures to get the RPS measure on the 2018 ballot. 

Self-identified Democrats were, unsurprisingly, the most enthusiastic about the proposed ballot, with 84 percent saying they would vote for it compared to only 6 percent opposed. But a majority of respondents in other political groups replied favorably, too. Self-identified independents said they would support the RPS increase in a 65 percent to 22 percent split, while Republicans, including those with a favorable impression of President Trump, favored the move 52 percent to 34 percent.

The Nevada state legislature passed a bill last year that would have increased the state’s RPS to 40 percent by 2030 and created new incentives for energy storage. But the legislation was vetoed by Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, who said the RPS increase would create too much uncertainty amid Nevada’s pending shift to an open and competitive energy market.

Sandoval also vetoed a bill last year that would have established a 200-megawatt community solar program by 2023.

He did, however, sign a popular bill restoring net metering credits for rooftop solar projects last year, following a controversial set of rate changes that shook up Nevada’s solar market and mobilized solar supporters. 

Heightened public awareness stemming from the net metering battle, coupled with the compelling business case for expanding the use of renewables, could see the Silver State approve two major ballot measures this fall.

A separate set of recent state polling conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, on behalf of the Sierra Club, found that Americans from five states across the country (Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania) showed strong support for generating 100 percent of electricity from renewable energy resources like wind and solar. 

Slight majority of Americans say "no" to solar tariffs

Turning to federal-level policy for a moment, a new survey conducted by the nonpartisan Program for Public Consultation (PPC) at the University of Maryland found that nearly six in 10 voters oppose new tariffs on solar panels imposed by the Trump administration.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and modules could trigger the loss of up to 23,000 American jobs in 2018, and delay or erase billions of dollars' worth of solar investments. According to GTM Research, the tariff will cause a roughly 11 percent net reduction in U.S. solar installations from 2018 to 2022.

However, nearly six in 10 Republicans favor the tariffs.

In the survey of 1,999 registered voters, respondents were presented with arguments for and against the solar tariffs (which were reviewed by experts in both camps) and asked whether they found the argument convincing. The argument that tariffs would hurt the U.S. domestic solar industry won over the most people, and especially Democrats. In total, 71 percent of respondents found the economic point compelling, including 84 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans.

“While Americans do respond to the arguments that American jobs are being lost to low-price imports and that the U.S. should push for better trade deals, the counterarguments — that tariffs could hurt the solar industry overall, and that there is a risk of starting a trade war — do better," said PPC Director Steven Kull. "While protectionist arguments hold some sway, in the end the majority comes down against the new tariffs.”

Overall, 58 percent of respondents said they opposed imposing declining tariffs on solar products, including an overwhelming 76 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents. However, 58 percent of Republicans favored the tariff.

What's interesting (a topic we discuss in this week's episode of GTM's new podcast, Political Climate) is that responses from Democrats and Republicans do not align with the traditional views held by each party.

"It appears that Donald Trump’s challenge to the prevailing trade order is related to growing polarization between Republicans and Democrats in the public," said Kull. "Ironically, this polarization is in a direction that is the opposite of the historical polarization between Republicans and Democrats in Congress."

Bipartisan legislation was recently introduced that would reverse the Trump administration's tariffs. If the PPC poll is any indication, getting this bill all the way through the Republican-held Congress will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.