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Taking the Initiative: Which Energy Initiative Would Actually Push Nevada to Act on Climate Change?

The United Nations (UN) just released new data detailing the world’s need to take bolder action on climate change. But thus far, the Trump administration continues to roll back prior climate actions rather than move the nation forward.

Though the federal government refuses to act on climate change, Nevada voters have an opportunity to take matters into their own hands with Question 6, a ballot initiative that will require the state to use more renewable energy if passed. But of course, voters must also figure out what to do about that other energy initiative (Question 3) that still confounds many voters. Here’s what you need to know about both initiatives.

What’s in the IPCC report, and just how bad is it?

Over the weekend, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report detailing how bleak humanity’s outlook may be if we don’t halt the current trajectory of climate change. Long story short: We may only have 12 years left to keep the world’s overall average temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius (or 2.7° Fahrenheit). The current global target under the 2015 Paris Agreement is 2°C, yet the new IPCC report shows that even this amount of warming would cause (even) more catastrophic melting of the polar ice caps and permafrost, (even) more extreme heatwaves, (even) more species loss, and plenty more damage then the new recommended target of 1.5°C. As the report itself states, “hundreds of millions of lives are at stake” in the next 12 years.

While the U.S. has formally accepted the report, the Trump administration continues to roll back climate action instead of taking any productive action. It’s a continuation of the White House’s pattern of elevating nativist rhetoric over real science.

Yet while the White House refuses to act, state and local authorities have stepped in to fill the void as much as they can. Most notably California has begun to set in motion its plan to become 100% carbon-neutral by 2045, while Washington may become the first state in the nation where voters set a price on carbon if they approve Initiative 1631 next month. We also have a ballot initiative here in Nevada that may have serious ramifications for our climate and our society.

Question 6: Will Nevada reach 50% renewable energy by 2030?
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Photo provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior

Nevada has two energy policy constitutional amendments on our ballot this year. Before we get to that other one, here’s what you need to know about Question 6: If voters pass it this year and in 2020, our renewable portfolio standard (RPS) will be raised from 25% by 2025 to 50% by 2030. Or in other words, the state’s electricity providers will have to buy or generate 50% of their power from renewable sources by 2030.

Despite Nevada becoming a national leader in renewable energy generation, we currently only receive about 22% of our power from renewable sources, while nearly 75% of our power comes from out-of-state natural gas power plants. Not only might Question 6 push Nevada to develop and utilize more of our renewable resources here at home, but it can also allow to Nevada become part of the solution when it comes to how the U.S. acts on climate, as the phasing out of fossil fuels will be a key component to having any chance of meeting the IPCC’s 1.5°C recommended target.

Question 3: That other energy “choice” initiative, but the choice isn’t really about renewables
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Photo by Tony Webster, made available by Wikimedia, and licensed under Creative Commons

But wait, what about the other “clean energy” initiative, Question 3? Here’s the deal on that: Question 6 will determine how our electric power is generated, while Question 3 will determine who supplies electric power to consumers. While NV Energy has threatened to abandon its plan to invest in more locally generated renewable energy over the next five years if Question 3 passes again (thereby becoming law next year), NV Energy will have to begin divesting from energy generation anyways, and any new companies that come into Nevada’s newly restructured electric market will have to abide by the state’s new renewable standard.

Again, Question 3 is not really about whether or not our energy is “clean”, but rather who will provide it to us. Currently, Nevada’s electricity market is a fairly regulated monopoly where NV Energy supplies electricity to the vast majority of the state’s consumers while adhering to guidelines and stipulations issued by the state. If Question 3 passes, the state will have to restart from scratch in developing a new regulatory structure where multiple suppliers can compete for customers.

Question 3 supporters have argued that deregulation (or as Q3 supporters prefer to call it, “restructuring”) will allow for more community solar projects, while opponents have argued that it will scuttle the NV Energy agreement to invest in more large-scale renewable projects. But in reality, the key question that Question 3 presents to voters is whether they trust the Legislature to set up a new regulatory framework that benefits consumers. And no matter how you feel about the Nevada Legislature, NV Energy, and the business interests that are promoting Question 3, it’s important to remember that if you’re worried about climate change and/or in love with renewable energy, Question 6 is the energy initiative that actually addresses it.

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