Nevada, Arizona Split on Renewable Energy

By: - November 7, 2018 12:00 am

Electricians install solar panels on a roof in Arizona. Voters in the state Tuesday shot down a renewable energy measure. Matt York/The Associated Press

This story is part of Stateline’s midterm election coverage.

Arizona voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure to increase the amount of energy its utilities must acquire from renewable sources after a campaign that drew tens of millions of dollars, while Nevada voters approved a similar measure.

The Arizona measure would have increased the amount of energy that must come from renewable sources to 50 percent by 2030, up from the 15 percent by 2025 standard set in 2006. Voters rejected it by about 70 to 30 percent, a state website showed.

The Nevada measure will require the state to acquire 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The law currently requires utilities to get 25 percent of their energy from renewables by 2025. It passed by about 59 to 41 percent, a state tally showed.

Opponents in both states — primarily utilities — made similar arguments: utilities already have increased renewables but need fossil fuels to produce reliable electricity. They argue the mandates will increase consumers’ bills. Supporters such as environmental groups and activists including billionaire Tom Steyer say the mandates are necessary in the face of climate change and have been easily met by utilities in other states.

Arizona’s ballot initiative proved controversial at the ballot box. The measure drew more than million in political spending, of which more than million was spent in opposition. That makes it the most expensive ballot measure campaign in state history.

Utilities including Arizona Public Service Co. welcomed the voters’ decision.

“We’ve said throughout this campaign there is a better way to create a clean-energy future for Arizona that is also affordable and reliable,” APS Chairman, President and CEO Don Brandt said in a statement Tuesday night.

Supporters said they would keep pushing renewable energy.

“We can see the effects of climate change around us in rising temperatures, dangerous wildfires and continual drought,” Bret Fanshaw, campaign director of Environment Arizona’s Go Solar campaign, said in a statement. “But we have more work to do to turn our air and our climate into priorities at the ballot box.”

Glen Anderson with the National Conference of State Legislatures said states have typically passed renewable mandates in the legislature rather than at the ballot box.

State renewable portfolio standards are credited with spurring half the growth in renewable energy production since 2000, though federal tax credits, cost declines and corporate renewable energy goals also are factors.

States’ renewable energy mandates vary considerably, typically ranging from 10 to 50 percent of a state’s electricity production. But energy companies have been able to meet them in almost every case. Just two of the 29 states reviewed in a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab study haven’t come within 5 percent of their mandate for their most recent compliance year.

This was a big year for renewable energy in state legislative sessions. California became the second state, following Hawaii in 2015, to require that all of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2045. Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey also voted to increase the amount of electricity that must come from renewables.

Just seven states have renewable energy requirements at or above the 50 percent mark: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington D.C.

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Rebecca Beitsch

Rebecca Beitsch writes about energy and the environment for Stateline. She covered state government in Missouri and North Dakota, writing about politics and policy for NewsRadio KMOX, the Columbia Missourian and the Bismarck Tribune.