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California Billionaire’s Radical Initiatives Advance in Three States

August 3, 2018

With the financial support of a California billionaire, efforts to use government power to force a radical increase in the use of renewable energy have advanced in three states.

With the financial support of a California billionaire, efforts to use government power to force a radical increase in the use of renewable energy have advanced in three states.

Supporters of ballot initiatives to require utilities in Arizona and Nevada to generate 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2030 turned in sufficient numbers of petition signatures to qualify for statewide ballots in November 2018 if state officials certify enough of the signatures are valid.

The Nevada measure would have to meet voter approval in both 2018 and 2020 before becoming law.

A similar ballot initiative to require 30 percent of the electricity delivered by utilities in Michigan to come from renewable sources by 2030 was withdrawn despite apparently garnering sufficient signatures to make the November ballot, when major utilities agreed to increase the renewable-generated electricity they provide in the state to 25 percent in 2030, 5 percent more than the 20 percent required under current law.

All three efforts have been largely financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, a prominent donor to environmental causes through his NextGen America organization. The petition campaigns relied largely on paid signature gatherers.

More Than Double

The ballot measures in Arizona and Nevada would require private utilities to provide more than twice as much renewable energy, principally solar and wind, as is mandated under current law.

Currently, the two states get most of their electric power from coal, nuclear, and natural gas, the least expensive sources of electricity.

At present, approximately 20 percent of Nevada’s power comes from renewables, with current law requiring that renewable sources of power account for 25 percent of the electricity utilities provide by 2025.

About 12 percent of Arizona’s power comes from renewables, including some 6 percent from hydroelectric generation. A 2006 mandate by the Arizona Corporation Commission, the state’s utility regulator, requires that 15 percent of the electricity provided by utilities come from renewable sources by 2025.

Expects Big Price Hikes

Contrary to ballot measure supporters’ claims the increased use of renewables will save consumers money, electricity prices will rise if the voters approve these initiatives, says James Taylor, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“A 50 percent renewable power mandate will cause substantial hikes in energy bills,” said Taylor. “Even though renewable sources of electricity are highly subsidized, they are still more expensive than other forms of energy.

“The federal government reports wind and solar power receive four times the subsidies received by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power combined,” said Taylor. “Despite these subsidies, the Institute for Energy Research and even the left-of-center Brookings Institution document wind and solar power are much more expensive than conventional power.”

Slouching Toward California

Citing California’s energy prices as an example, Taylor says ratepayers in Arizona and Nevada will face steeply higher prices if the 50 percent mandates become law.

“California, which currently gets 30 percent of its electricity from renewables, expects to reach 50 percent renewables by 2030,” said Taylor. “A 50 percent renewable power mandate would put Arizona, for example, on the same energy path as California, where electricity prices are already approximately 50 percent higher than in Arizona.”

Renewables require mandates because of their high cost, Taylor says.

“If renewable sources of power were cheaper and as reliable as traditional sources of electricity, government would not have to impose renewable power mandates forcing people to buy expensive renewable energy,” Taylor said.

Emissions Already Declining

Although supporters of the renewable initiatives claim increased use of renewables will reduce greenhouse emissions, the mandates are unnecessary for that purpose, Taylor says.

“The United States is already leading the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with no country reducing emissions faster than America,” Taylor said. “U.S. emissions are down 14 percent in this century, even as global emissions are up 40 percent.

“American emissions are lower than they have been since 1992, and emissions continue to decline,” said Taylor. “Even if global warming were a serious problem—and I’m not agreeing it is—renewable power mandates are an expensive and unnecessary way to continue the emissions reductions we are already achieving without them.”

Joe Barnett (joepaulbarnett@att.net) writes from Dallas, Texas.

Author
Joe Barnett is a former senior director of policy research at the National Center for Policy Analysis and is currently a program development consultant with the Beacon Hill Institute.