The 2018 Vote: Energy Measures Yield Mixed Results

How the outcome of 2018 ballot initiatives will shape energy policy.
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Energy-related initiatives on the ballot in last week’s midterm election ballots met with mixed results. But the presence of those measures in three Western states speaks volumes about the growing momentum behind sustainability.

Nevada Raises Standards

Nevada voters approved Question 6, the Renewable Energy Standards Initiative. A “yes” vote supported a requirement for electric utilities to acquire half their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. A “no” vote favored maintaining the existing requirement that electric utilities source a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Nevada voters made history [on November 6], taking a vital step that puts the state on track to rapidly expand solar installations and create thousands of new jobs,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association. “The measure will reduce pollution and lower energy bills for Nevadans in all corners of the state.” He described the measure’s approval as a sign that voters of all political stripes recognize the benefits of solar power and favor policies that encourage its expansion. 

The state turned down a separate energy-related proposal that would have allowed competition in Nevada’s electricity market. That measure was approved in 2016, but state law requires constitutional amendments to pass in two consecutive elections for ratification. NV Energy, the main financial backer of the opposition campaign, will continue as the state’s sole power provider. 

Arizona says no

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A similar proposal fared less well in the neighboring state of Arizona, where voters rejected Proposition 127. That measure would have mandated the same standard as Nevada: 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Despite the defeat, renewable energy proponents insist they are unfazed. “Arizona has some of the strongest solar potential in the nation,” Gallagher said. “Regardless of the outcome of this election, the opportunity should be seized.” As previously reported by CPE, current state guidelines that call for the state’s 16 regulated utilities to procure 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

Other major organizations find the election results to be telling. “We certainly monitored that and watched it closely,” said Toby Burke, Washington, D.C.-based senior director of state and local affairs for NAIOP. “That’s because it could potentially have an impact on the cost of doing business in terms of having a sustainable, reliable energy source.”

Cap-and-trade comes up short

Another closely watched ballot initiative came up short in Washington, where voters rejected Initiative 1631, which would have created the first carbon emissions tax in the U.S. “I don’t think it was posed as a cap-and-trade system, but rather a per-metric ton fee on carbon emissions,” noted Ted Thurn, director of government affairs at the Institute of Real Estate Management. The organization was neutral on the proposal, he added, focusing more attention on rent control-related measures, like California’s unsuccessful Proposition 10.

Nevertheless, Thurn noted that Washington’s initiative 1631 could have broader implications. “These taxes are already in place in other countries around the world. And if one state implements this type of tax, it could result in other states following suit.”

The energy-related ballot measures in the West may exert little short-term effect on their real estate markets, but the issue bears watching, executives say. “With measures making it to the ballot in Arizona, Nevada, and Washington, the important themes of renewable energy are certainly on the minds of many voters across the West, said Tore Steen, co-founder & CEO of CrowdStreet, Inc., an online platform connecting investors to real estate developers and operators seeking private capital.” We would expect renewable energy to be a consideration for the industry to continue to address.”