Solar on the ballot

By John David Baldwin on October 11, 2018

As surely as the coming of autumn means falling leaves and trick-or-treat candy in supermarkets, the cool season brings hot electoral campaigns. In addition to candidates, voters in states across the country will have an opportunity to have their say on several ballot measures that impact our solar rights. These ballot measures give voters the ability to increase the amount of energy from renewable sources used in their states, by changing the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

“In Nevada, a diverse coalition worked to pass 11 clean energy bills in 2017, including AB206 [the previous bill to increase the state’s RPS],” said Art Terrazas, Interior West Director of Vote Solar. “Unfortunately AB206 was vetoed by Governor Sandoval, but the bill had tremendous support from both the legislature and the community.”

Terrazas indicated that the main problem going forward is possible confusion between the proposal to raise Nevada’s RPS to 50 percent by 2030, which is called Question 6 on the state ballot, and another proposal, called Question 3, which would allow energy consumers to pick their own power suppliers. (In this article, we described the initial vote concerning this same Question 3, which had passed in 2016. The second vote, coming this November, would allow the proposal to actually become law.)

Next door in Arizona, voters will also have the opportunity to raise the state’s clean energy standard. Prop 127 would amend the state constitution to require utilities to provide 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Terrazas notes that a lawsuit led by Arizona Public Service (APS) to challenge the legitimacy of the signatures on the petition to put Prop 127 on the ballot was unsuccessful, and that a competing, less stringent energy ballot measure, also supported by the utility, failed even to get on the ballot.

Terrazas said utilities in the state like APS, Salt River Project, and Tucson Electric Power “are spending millions to blanket the state in ‘No on 127’ propaganda.”

One common argument against state proposals to raise RPS levels is that they’re unnecessary, due to the fact that renewables in recent years have become very cheap, in some areas cheaper than natural gas. Terrazas disagrees with this position.

“RPS ballot initiatives can help create a ‘floor’ for renewables that persist, regardless of measures such as [Question 3] in Nevada, which do not guarantee more renewable energy,” he said. He points out that while some utilities are, on their own, including more renewables in the energy mix, others are turning to natural gas instead.

“For states such as Arizona, where public support for renewable energy is high but utility opposition is fierce, taking clean energy policy to a vote of the people is one of the only options to advance state level solar policy,” Terrazas said.

Sometimes, ballot measures don’t even have to be put to a vote to have an impact.

In Michigan earlier this year, a ballot initiative was proposed that would have raised the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio to 30 percent by 2030. This was put forward despite the fact that a similar measure had failed in 2012, and that only two years ago, the state’s RPS was legally raised from 10 percent to 15 percent by 2021. The sponsor of the new proposal, a Super PAC called NextGen America, collected more than 350,000 signatures to get the RPS measure on the ballot this fall.

The state’s two main utilities – DTE and Consumers Energy – then capitulated to this movement. In the compromise that was worked out, on the condition that NextGen and other solar advocates remove the proposal from the ballot, the utilities promised to get, by 2030, 25 percent of their power from renewables and 25 percent through energy efficiency upgrades. So, it never hurts to propose measures for higher RPS standards, even if such proposals never make it to the voting booth.