Ballot box battle over clean energy is brewing in three states

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Clean energy advocates have their eyes on three states — Michigan, Nevada, and Arizona — where they hope to strengthen renewable energy policies by getting voters to pass citizen-led ballot initiatives. As with previous battles at the ballot box over clean energy, the campaigners are expecting electric utilities and Koch-funded groups to fight against these attempts to give wind and solar energy a greater foothold in a state’s energy portfolio.

Despite the millions of dollars that industry groups will spend to defeat these measures, their supporters contend voters will be inclined to support greater use of renewables because of the dramatic decline in their cost. In parts of the western United States, building new wind, solar, and energy storage facilities has become cheaper than a new natural gas-fired plant.

“Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are much cheaper than they were in 2010 or 2012,” Dylan Sullivan, senior scientist in the climate and energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “We’ve always won on the health and future generations arguments. But now we can really win on the cost and jobs argument.”

Electric utilities and dark money groups have traditionally spent huge sums fending off such attempts to expand renewables. For 2018, though, billionaire Tom Steyer, through his NextGen America group, is backing measures that would strengthen state-mandated renewable energy requirements.

In Michigan, a NextGen America-backed ballot initiative called “Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan” is pushing for a 30-percent renewable energy mandate by 2030, up from the current requirement of 15 percent by 2021. The initiative defines renewable energy as solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower.

The group intends to use a combination of paid and volunteer staff to collect at least 252,523 valid signatures to put its proposed initiative on the statewide Michigan ballot in November.

Clean energy advocates believe these mandates, called renewable portfolio standards, are too conservative in most states. The standards require electric companies to provide a certain amount of electricity from renewable energy sources or through energy efficiency measures.

Among the policy options available to clean energy advocates, renewable portfolio standards are both effective in getting more clean energy built and are easy to explain to the public, said Sullivan. “The public really likes renewables, and it’s this broad support that these initiatives will tap,” he said. “Young people are overwhelmingly in support and recognize the economic and jobs potential of clean energy.”

Supporters of “Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Committee,” also backed by NextGen America, kicked off a campaign this week to get the state’s utilities to use clean energy sources — not including nuclear energy — to generate 50 percent of the state’s electricity needs, up from 15 percent today. Campaigners need to collect 225,963 voter signatures by July to make the 2018 ballot.

In Nevada, the newly announced “Initiative to Promote Renewable Energy” would require the state to amend its Constitution to increase its renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030. The state’s current target is 25 percent renewables by 2025. The ballot language says the renewable energy sources can come from “solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and waterpower.”

The ballot initiative has garnered the support of U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), who pushed the state’s adoption of its first renewable portfolio standard in 1997 when she was in the state Senate.

“This ballot initiative puts the power in the hands of the people and sends a message to the nation that 25 percent by 2025 is not enough,” Titus said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “It is time our state does what Trump, Republicans, and the fossil fuel lobby are unwilling to do: cut emissions, create clean-energy jobs, and modernize more of the power sources that energize our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.”


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Author: Mark Hand

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