To the ballot

Will two energy questions confuse voters?

Signature gatherers are busy around Nevada qualifying various issues for the ballot. This one is at the Department of Motor Vehicles on Galletti Way.

Signature gatherers are busy around Nevada qualifying various issues for the ballot. This one is at the Department of Motor Vehicles on Galletti Way.


Supporters of a ballot measure providing for increased use of renewable energy in Nevada are concerned the measure will be confused with a second ballot measure that would change the energy market in the state.

The energy market petition could be called the Adelson measure—billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Corp. is the prime mover behind it.

The renewable energy petition could be called the Steyer measure—Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager worth more than $1.6 billion, is its principal backer (“Petition,” RN&R, March 29).

Both measures would amend the Nevada Constitution, meaning they must be voted on by Nevadans twice. The Adelson petition has already been approved by voters once with a 72.36 percent vote and must go through second-round balloting this year. The Steyer measure faces first-round balloting this year.

The Adelson petition is ballot Question Three. The Steyer petition is still being circulated for signatures and will not be numbered until it qualifies for the ballot, which is considered likely. The state requires 112,544 signatures.

The Adelson petition went on the ballot after several Clark County casino corporations sought to break away from NV Energy as their power supplier. The Nevada Public Utilities Commission said they would have to pay hefty multi-million dollar “exit fees” in order to find different power sources. Some casinos paid the fees, but the Sands chose another route—using an initiative petition to change state law, which currently says there can only be one electric utility company per service area. The measure pits Adelson against fellow billionaire Warren Buffett, owner of NV Energy’s parent corporation.

In a 2016 statement explaining its decision, the Sands corporation said, “While Las Vegas Sands did not exercise its option to exit NV Energy, the company maintains a strong desire to purchase and use the cleanest and most cost-efficient energy available on the open market. Big business should not be the only ones participating in a discussion about energy choice though. It’s important our employees and all Nevada ratepayers have a voice in this debate and we will absolutely support efforts to help those voices be heard.”

That “big business” shot at NV Energy comes from a corporation that, besides the Sands, also runs an expo hall plus the Palazzo and Venetian casino hotels.

In its first round campaign, Adelson’s campaigners portrayed the measure as offering “choice,” and most journalists followed that cue.

Among critics of the Adelson measure in 2016 was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1245, whose business manager, Tom Dalzell, said the IBEW was worried about jobs: “The secretive backers of this measure want voters to believe it’s about ’energy choices,’ but in reality, it would help a handful of ultra-wealthy casino moguls get even richer, at the expense of Nevada’s working families.” The union has gone all-out in trying to defeat Three.

This week, Democratic candidates for governor Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak both came out against Three.

Educating the public

Steyer’s petition seeks to require power utilities to provide at least 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030. It would be achieved in increments—at least 26 percent in 2022-2023, 34 percent in 2024-2026, 42 percent in 2027-2029, and 50 percent in 2030 and thereafter. Right now, the state requires that 25 percent of electricity sales be derived from renewables by 2025. In 2016, the state achieved 21.6.

Kyle Roerink, communications director for the Steyer petition, said, “Right now, Nevada spends $700 million annually on out of state fossil fuels. Consequently, Nevada’s abundant sunshine and geothermal resources go unused, and we squander an opportunity to improve lives and create jobs.”

The worry for Steyer petition supporters in particular is that with two energy measures on the ballot, the public will not distinguish between them very well.

One state legislator who spoke on background said, “Ballot campaigns are difficult. Voters are really going to have to pay attention, and reporters need to do a good job of pointing out the differences” between the two ballot measures.

The two petitions do not necessarily have the same interest in keeping the lines straight between them. A supporter of the Adelson measure said with a laugh, “I’m OK with them confusing us with Steyer’s effort.” She said the Steyer petition is more marketable and that “piggy-backing” the Adelson measure onto Steyer would be helpful.

Question 3 is expected to face a much more rigorous challenge in second-round voting, and its supporters are also expected to spend heavily to block that challenge.

Adelson’s organization last week announced it had hired two high-powered and expensive political consultants, one of them former Harry Reid campaign advisor Brandon Hall.

Steyer, in addition to funding the renewables measure, is also planning to spend heavily in two other Nevada campaigns—mobilizing 18-to-35-year-old voters with a precinct level campaign to turn out to help defeat U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s reelection bid and Republican candidate for governor Adam Laxalt. He hopes to lure a quarter of a million young voters to the polls in the state. Heller has been receiving financial contributions from, among others, Berkshire Hathaway, the company that owns NV Energy.

Among other ballot petitions filed this year, two have already fallen by the wayside. One, seeking to repeal the Nevada commerce tax, was withdrawn. A second petition with the same goal is still in the field. The second, which sought to ban Nevada sanctuary cities, was stricken from being circulated by a district court judge. There was doubt among political professionals whether its supporter would be able to gather the signatures necessary for ballot status in any event.

Still alive are a measure that would provide for “ranked choice” in elections and do away with primaries, and the second petition to do way with the commerce tax.