By Jocelyn Durkay
It’s without a doubt that this year’s election is significant for states and the nation—and beyond the Oval Office and legislative halls, energy-related ballot measures will be before voters this November in Florida, Nevada and Washington.
The first, Florida’s Constitutional Amendment 1, has two parts.
First, it seeks to allow consumers the constitutional right to own or lease solar equipment on their property for personal use. While individual customers already have this right, they are prohibited from accessing third party capital to do this, which has significantly dampened the small-scale solar market.
The second part of this amendment proposes to enact a constitutional protection for state and local governments to protect consumer rights and ensure that non-solar energy customers are not subsidizing costs for solar customers.
If solar customers generate enough energy, their resulting electricity bill can be close to zero. Supporters argue this avoids paying for important grid infrastructure that solar customers still use, such as the power lines that deliver electricity at night when photovoltaic panels are not generating electricity.
Opponents contend that solar offers the utility monetary benefits that counteract the subsidization argument, such as reduced peak energy demand, reduced need for transmission upgrades and lower emissions.
They claim that if the amendment passes, it will open the door to new tariffs and flat fees that could eliminate the incentive for individuals to generate their own electricity. This debate is not unique to Florida, and is playing out across the country.
Constitutional amendments in Florida must receive a vote of 60 percent or more to be approved. Notably, the campaign for this particular measure alone has raised nearly $24 million in contributions.
Florida voters already approved Amendment 4 in an August primary, which provided for property tax exemptions for solar power and other renewable energy equipment.
Nevada’s Question 3 proposes to establish an open, competitive retail electric energy market and prohibits a monopoly franchise for the electricity generation.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 17 states and Washington, D.C. have competitive retail markets for electricity. This measure would also include the right to produce electricity (such as from renewable sources) and to sell it on the open market.
Supporters of this measure include a number of large consumers, such as Las Vegas Sands casino operator. Another casino operator, MGM Grand, announced earlier this year it would pay approximately $87 million in exit fees to leave the incumbent utility’s service to procure energy on the market and through self-generation.
Constitutional amendments in Nevada must receive voter approval in two successive general elections, and this is Question 3’s first appearance on a ballot.
Another voter referendum concerning retail net energy metering qualified for the Nevada ballot but was found to be unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.
Last but not least, Washington’s Initiative 732 proposes a carbon emissions tax. This measure would place a tax on the sale or use of fossil fuels and fossil fuel-generated electricity.
The tax would begin at $15 per metric ton in 2017, rise to $25 per metric ton in 2018 and then increase 3.5 percent (plus inflation) until it reaches the maximum of $100 per metric ton. To compensate for this additional tax, the measure would reduce the sales tax rate, increase a low-income sales tax exemption and reduce certain manufacturing taxes.
To complicate matters, the Washington Department of Ecology just adopted a rule to reduce carbon emissions from companies that emit more than 100,000 metric tons annually. The rule establishes individual caps for companies that decline five percent every three years.
As an Initiative to the Legislature, Initiative 732 appeared before legislators in the 2016 session. The legislature did not act and the measure now appears before voters.
Additionally, the state’s Advisory Vote 15 will ask Washington voters to repeal or maintain a sales tax exemption for certain alternative fuel vehicles that was extended by the legislature in 2016.
For more information on energy legislation from states’ past sessions, please visit NCSL’s Energy and Environmental Legislation Database and learn more about the key issues facing voters this fall with NCSL’s Ballot Measures database.
Jocelyn Durkay is a senior policy specialist in NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Group.