Newspaper column: How will energy choice affect rural Nevadans?

One of the big questions lingering about a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would end electric power monopolies and create an open and competitive market electricity is: Just how will it affect customers of rural Nevada’s power cooperatives?

Question 3 on the 2016 General Election ballot — the Energy Choice Initiative (ECI) — passed by an overwhelming 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent. Because the measure would amend the state Constitution, it is back on the ballot this fall for final voter approval, but now a coalition headed by NV Energy is campaigning to defeat it.

David Luttrell — general manager of the Lincoln County Power District No. 1, president of the Nevada Rural Electric Association and a member of the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice — said his power district has not joined the coalition opposing the initiative, but he is concerned the initiative’s impact on rural Nevada, should it pass, is not being adequately addressed.

“As we’re moving toward energy choice we were hopeful that there would be some recognition that the rural organizations, by definition, offer choice, so there are choices,” Luttrell said in a recent interview. “They were created by the people they serve for the people they serve. So at a very fundamental level that is choice.”

None of the rules will be written until and unless it passes again in November and goes to lawmakers. Luttrell said what is really going on at this stage is a kind of record building and fact finding.

“If you look at some of the comments of proponents of energy choice, one of the things they very strongly believe is that existing utilities do not and are not allowed to be retail energy providers, and their argument, I understand, I get the basis of their argument, is that an existing utility, retail energy provider, they do have an advantage that others that want to come into the area will not be able to compete against,” he said.

The proponents say it would be unfair and hinder real competition intended to lower overall power bills if the existing utilities are allowed to continue to generate power at the facilities they own and maintain existing contracts with outside suppliers.

While that argument is being made, it is not necessarily mandatory. The initiative itself simply requires the Legislature to pass a law providing an open, competitive retail electric energy market by July 1, 2023. The law must include provisions to reduce customer costs, protect against service disconnections and unfair practices, and prohibit the granting of monopolies for power generation, but could leave in place regulation of transmission or distribution systems.

On their website the backers of the initiative say it would be up to lawmakers to decide if current utilities would have to divest their generation facilities.

“In some energy choice states, energy consumers do not have to choose a new supplier. They can choose to remain with the incumbent utility. Other states have chosen to prohibit the utility from generating and selling power to consumers,” the ECI website offers. “In both cases, the utility retains ownership of the transmission and distribution grid and responsibility for maintaining the system and billing customers. Energy choice states simply give consumers the right to choose a new supplier, aggregate a community to purchase electricity, or generate their own power.”

But Paul Caudill, CEO of NV Energy, has told the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice that, if voters approve the amendment, his company is ready to divest all generation assets and all purchase power agreements. He said the company has no interest in being a provider of last resort and will most likely transform into a wires only company.

NV Energy has suggested divestiture could result in so-called stranded cost of as much as $7 billion that would have to be paid by existing customers.

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada estimates those stranded costs could cause electricity rates to rise $24.91 a month in Southern Nevada and $6.52 Northern Nevada for residential customers.

But a report by the Garrett Group presented to the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice recently on behalf of the initiative backers said such a sell off should be profitable, and, when coupled with the recent tax law changes, should cause power bills to drop by $11.16 a month.

If rural power cooperatives have to divest their contracts for cheap hydroelectric power, Luttell says bills will necessarily soar.

Next week: Part 2

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

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Newspaper column(s): Court should have left sanctuary cities petition up to voters … before and after

Editor’s note: This week there are actually two columns. One was written before the Nevada Supreme Court ruled Wednesday on an appeal about the Prevent Sanctuary Cities initiative petition and one after. The before appears in about half the papers that print it and the after in the other half. Oh well. Who expected the justices move so fast? This how it is done on the fly.

 

Before: 

Sometimes it seems the argument boils down to: Those darned voters just aren’t smart enough to figure it out.

That notion was never stated but seemed to linger in the background this past week at the Nevada Supreme Court during arguments about whether an initiative petition should be allowed to appear on the ballot, if enough signatures can be gathered.

The Prevent Sanctuary Cities initiative proposes to amend the state Constitution to prohibit state and local governments passing laws limiting or discouraging enforcement of federal immigration laws, which has happened in several California cities.

After the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the petition, a Carson City district court judge ruled in January the petition was “excessively broad and general” and likely to confuse voters, thus barring it from appearing on the ballot. Proponents appealed to the state’s high court. 

Though opponents challenged the petition, claiming it violated the law by not addressing only a single subject, as the law requires, and failed to adequately provide a description of potential consequences, Paul Georgeson, the attorney representing the petitioners, argued to the court the only foreseeable effect of passage would be to prohibit state and local government from passing laws deterring enforcement of federal immigration laws. 

“All of the other potential consequences that are identified by the opponents, and which frankly the district court didn’t get into at all in its analysis, are hypothetical and speculative,” he claimed.

Opponents have argued such an amendment might cost local communities money to enforce the law, might harm public safety because immigrants might be reluctant to report crime and they might refuse to enroll in social services.

But attorneys for petitioners note that if the matter is qualified for the ballot there will be an opportunity for both sides to make pro and con statements that will accompany the ballot language. 

Georgeson said in court, “The district court did not make a determination or identify any potential effects that are not included in this petition description that should be included,” adding, “How does someone successfully draft a petition to meet the requirements if they have to anticipate which speculative, hypothetical effect the opponents are going to argue?”

Georgeson said the district judge created a new criteria by saying the topic was too broad, saying the petition is still on a single subject, even if the subject is broad.

Of the description of effect, Georgeson said, “It doesn’t have to be the best description, it just has to be an accurate description. The description of effect in this case is succinct, direct, accurate, non-deceptive …” 

Marc Elias, an attorney for opponents, argued that the single subject rule and the requirement for a description of effect are intended to give the voters a practical sense of what they are signing or voting on. “Both of these two safeguards are in place for the same reason. They are to prevent voter confusion and they are to promote informed decision making,” he said. 

Elias argued federal immigration law covers many subjects and is subject to change, and the petition is, therefore, misleading. He argued that the very name of the petition connotes lawlessness to some but to others it means providing succor. 

He also claimed immigrations laws affect everything from treaties to Social Security and welfare benefits. “The voter doesn’t even know what the laws are that are being rolled. All it knows are that there is this undefined notion of federal immigration law, which, as I point out, is ever changing.” 

Justice Chris Pickering noted that Nevada voters amended the state Constitution to tie the state minimum wage to the federal minimum wage law, which is subject to change.

Justice James Hardesty followed up by saying, “If the federal government enacts an immigration law tomorrow or if there is one on the books today this initiative prohibits state interference with that immigration law. How is that a violation of the rules we’ve enacted? Let’s get focused here — the rules we’ve enacted for determining the single subject rule. My understanding from the briefs is that single subject that’s been articulated, again not speaking to the policy, whether it is good, bad or indifferent policy is a separate question. But the single subject that’s stated here seems pretty clear. Local government, state government isn’t going to adopt any law that interferes with federal immigration laws. Sounds like a single subject to me.”

The court should let the voters decide if they are confused and whether the proposed policy is good or not.

 

After:

Sometimes it seems the argument boils down to: Those darned voters just aren’t smart enough to figure it out.

That notion was never stated but seemed to linger in the background this past week at the Nevada Supreme Court during arguments about whether an initiative petition should be allowed to appear on the ballot, if enough signatures can be gathered.

The Prevent Sanctuary Cities initiative proposes to amend the state Constitution to prohibit state and local governments passing laws limiting or discouraging enforcement of federal immigration laws, which has happened in several California cities.

After the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the petition, a Carson City district court judge ruled in January the petition was “excessively broad and general” and likely to confuse voters, thus barring it from appearing on the ballot. Proponents appealed to the state’s high court. 

Opponents challenged the petition, claiming it violated the law by not addressing only a single subject, as the law requires, and failed to adequately provide a description of potential consequences, Paul Georgeson, the attorney representing the petitioners, argued to the court the only foreseeable effect of passage would be to prohibit state and local government from passing laws deterring enforcement of federal immigration laws. 

“All of the other potential consequences that are identified by the opponents, and which frankly the district court didn’t get into at all in its analysis, are hypothetical and speculative,” he claimed.

On Wednesday, however, the court ruled 6-1 that the petition was a single subject, but both the title of the petition and its description of effect are “confusing and misleading” to petition signers and remanded the matter to the lower court to allow a redrafting of the petition to remedy its defects.

The court ruled the “title ‘Prevent Sanctuary Cities’ is a catch-all that is subject to shifting and imprecise meanings, not a neutral, descriptive phrase.” 

This means signatures already gathered are not valid and the backers would have to redraft the petition to satisfy the court and then gather 112,500 signatures by June 19 to qualify for the November ballot — a proposition that seems unlikely. 

Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson, honorary chairman of the Prevent Sanctuary Cities PAC and a candidate for lieutenant governor, wrote in an email, “Even if we are not afforded enough time to obtain the necessary signatures by June 19, this is a big victory in the longer term. Obtaining certainty on the language enables us to consider a statutory initiative wherein we would have until mid-November to gather signatures.”

Roberson said the Legislature would have 40 days to adopt the language or it would go on the 2020 ballot as a statutory measure. 

But he said the group is considering all options. “It also sets us up to hit the ground running in September 2019 for another attempt at a constitutional measure,” Roberson said. “Justice can be delayed but it will not be denied.”

Opponents have argued such an amendment might cost local communities money to enforce the law, might harm public safety because immigrants might be reluctant to report crime and they might refuse to enroll in social services.

The Supreme Court’s subjective ruling about the sagacity of petition signers is overly nitpicking. Even as the justices note, once the matter is qualified for the ballot “the description of effect plays no further role in the remaining initiative process.” 

This because the law says the Secretary of State must prepare “arguments and rebuttals for or against constitutional amendments,” not the petitioner. Problem solved. It is up to the voters.

During oral arguments, Georgeson said, “It doesn’t have to be the best description, it just has to be an accurate description. The description of effect in this case is succinct, direct, accurate, non-deceptive …” 

Marc Elias, an attorney for opponents, argued that the single subject rule and the requirement for a description of effect are intended to give the voters a practical sense of what they are signing or voting on. “Both of these two safeguards are in place for the same reason. They are to prevent voter confusion and they are to promote informed decision making,” he said. 

The voters would have had ample opportunity to review the arguments for and against.

The court should have let the voters decide if they are confused and whether the proposed policy is good or not and not presumed potential confusion at the petition signature gathering level.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Newspaper column: BLM calculates costs of wild horse options

The Bureau of Land Management sent to Congress late this past week a report outlining four options for reducing the wild horse and burro population in 10 Western states to sustainable levels.

Only one of the four options includes the use of euthanasia, but that was enough to give the self-styled wild horse lovers palpitations.

“The BLM today released a roadmap for destruction of America’s wild free-roaming horse and burros by virtually eradicating their populations on our Western public lands,” Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, fired off in a press release. “The agency has failed to deliver the ‘humane and politically viable’ options requested by Congress, and instead has devised an irresponsible plan that is counter to public opinion …”

The BLM report noted that there now are 83,000 wild horses and burros on a range that it says can adequately sustain no more than 26,715 such animals. In addition there are another 46,000 unadopted animals being warehoused in pens and holding pastures. The cost of maintaining those no-longer wild horses and burros drains 60 percent of the agency’s current $81 million annual budget for handling the animals.

Though the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act called for unadoptable animals to be sold without restriction or humanely destroyed, Congress for the past decade has used budget riders to prohibit that.

“Wild horses and burros have no natural predators and herds can double in size every 4 years,” the BLM report to Congress states. “As herd sizes increase, the forage and water resources from the land become depleted, resulting in starvation, dehydration, and death. In their search for food and water, the animals often move onto private land or along highways resulting in safety issues and habitat destruction for horses and humans alike. Public-land ranchers have cut back on grazing to accommodate increasing numbers of wild horses and burros.”

The report noted that overpopulation of these non-native animals is degrading the ecosystem and crowding out native greater sage grouse, pronghorn, deer, elk and bighorn sheep.

Three of the four options outlined by the BLM largely would require extensive use of fertility drugs and surgical sterilization. All at considerable cost to the taxpayers.

One of those options is estimated to cost $116 million in the next budget year, increasing to $246 million by the 2027 budget, after which cost would be expected to slowly decrease.

Another option is expected to cost $133 million a year, increasing to $147 million by 2023.

Still another would cost  $135 million in next year and increase to $143 million in 2023.

Two of the options would offer monetary incentives of up to $1,000 to those who adopt these animals.

Of course, the cheapest option is the one that includes euthanasia, as well as fertility control, sterilization and adoptions. It would cost $115 million a year through 2021, dropping each year thereafter. Once a sustainable population is reached in eight years, the cost would drop to $65 million a year.

At a September 2016 meeting in Elko the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board — which consists of veterinarians, natural resource organizations, humane advocacy groups, wildlife associations, livestock organizations and others — recommended the BLM sell without restrictions on eventual use of the animals all the wild horses and burros being warehoused. Any unsold animals would then be humanely destroyed.

The BLM in its report to Congress did not suggest which of the listed options it favored. But Congress should, for a change, consider the expense to the taxpayers instead of attempting to mollify the hysterical horse-hugger groups who claim the BLM is calling for the “mass killing or sale for slaughter of 100,000 mustangs and burros, including those currently in holding facilities and those who would be removed from the range.”

The BLM report naively concludes, “In each of the four options addressed above, the BLM will need the help of all stakeholders – Congress, livestock operators, state and local governments, and public interest organizations – to solve the wild horse and burro overpopulation challenge. The BLM looks forward to working with Congress and other interested parties on common sense solutions and will continue to pursue collaboration where possible. We request that Congress examine each of the options and advise on which of the tools it deems most suitable for addressing this urgent challenge.”

Common sense solutions? Collaboration? Don’t count on it.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Earlier this week more than 100 wild horses were found dead in a dried up stock pond on the Navajo Nation near Cameron, Ariz., apparently after getting trapped in the mud. (Photo by Mihio Manus/Navajo Nation via AP)

 

Newspaper column: PUC tilts at power choice initiative

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission, which is tasked with regulating the state’s monopoly utilities, has put out a 109-page report detailing a litany of things that could go wrong if voters again approve at the ballot box in November a constitutional amendment creating a free market for electricity.

In 2016 voters approved the Energy Choice Initiative by an overwhelming 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent. Because the measure would amend the state Constitution it is back on the ballot this fall for final voter approval, but this time around a coalition headed by the state’s largest power monopoly, NV Energy, has vowed to spend $30 million to defeat it.

The PUC report reads like an in-kind contribution to that effort.

A foreword signed by PUC Chairman Joe Reynolds declares that, while the concept of open markets is quintessentially American, “ensuring a non-stop supply of electricity to every home, business, and governmental entity in Nevada every second of every day of the year, regardless of the weather or economy, makes it unique from other goods and services. Electricity is a basic necessity of modern life. Like air. Like water. Like food.”

The Nevada Independent pix by Jeff Scheid

Thank goodness for those government regulated monopoly grocery stores.

While Reynolds says the report neither supports or opposes the initiative, the bulk of its findings appear to find fault with the proposal.

The initiative would require the Legislature to pass a law providing an open, competitive retail electric energy market by July 1, 2023. The law must include provisions to reduce customer costs, protect against service disconnections and unfair practices, and prohibit the granting of monopolies for power generation, but could leave in place regulation of transmission and distribution.

One of the chief arguments for the measure is that competition would drive down cost.

But the PUC report claims the proposal is likely to increase monthly electric bills in the first decade of implementation. The bulk of this cost is attributed to the supposition that NV Energy will be forced to divest its generation assets, though there is no language in the initiative even suggesting any such requirement.

The report argues that this presumed divestiture would cost Southern Nevada residential power customers $24.91 a month and Northern Nevada residential customers $6.52, because NV Energy might have to sell off its power plants at a loss. A presumption compounding a presumption.

At one point the report seemingly declares that the system isn’t broken, stating, “Our residential rates are on average, and our commercial and industrial rates are lower than average.”

In its conclusion the report feigns solicitude for the poor residential ratepayer and warns that residential customers might suffer the most if the initiative passes.

“If history and experience are any type of guide, commercial and industrial customers, will fare far better, at least initially, than the average Nevada residential family through this proposed change,” the report states. “Large commercial customers, who currently cannot depart bundled electricity service pursuant to NRS Chapter 704B may financially benefit the most, as they cannot currently access a competitive open marketplace that may offer benefits to high-volume users.”

This is the same PUC that currently sets those residential, commercial and industrial rates.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which is cited as the source for that earlier mention of low rates on average, the residential rate set by the PUC were the highest among the eight Mountain states in January 2018, while the commercial rate was the third lowest and the industrial rate was the second lowest in the region.

While residents paid 12.36 cents per kilowatt-hour, commercial customers paid 8.04 cents and industrial users paid only 5.28 cents. Thirty-one states have lower residential power rates than Nevada, according to the EIA. Only four states have lower industrial power rates. Only three states have lower commercial rates. (The EIA site now has February rates.)

Aren’t you glad your state regulators are looking out for you?

The report does point out a potential legal conundrum. While the initiative creates a “right to sell trade or otherwise dispose of electricity,” it also says lawmakers retain the power to establish “policies on renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental protection.”

A right would appear to trump a policy. The report asks whether a mining company might have the right to buy power from a coal-fired plant, despite a state law closing all such plants.

In a section on the impact on jobs, the report snidely concludes, “Lots of Nevada attorneys may also gain new work from the Energy Choice Initiative.”

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Opposition to wind farm project expressed

As part of its review process to determine whether to approve an application to allow construction of wind turbines on 32,000 acres of public land in Nevada adjacent to the California border just west of Searchlight, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a series of scoping meetings to allow public input.

At a recent meeting in Las Vegas a half dozen speakers largely expressed support for renewable energy but not on the proposed site.

According to a 2012 filing with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, Crescent Peak Renewables is proposing to erect 220 wind turbine towers standing more than 400 feet high and generating 500 megawatts of power. The proposed site is adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the Castle Mountain National Monument in California and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness and the South McCullough Wilderness in Nevada. All of the land is in Nevada.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area (Pix by Kurt Kuznicki)

Alan O’Neill, retired superintendent at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, testified there is a coalition of conservation organizations in California and Nevada that asked the BLM to hold off on issuing the notice of intent for the wind project until a supplemental resource management plan could be completed.

O’Neill also said the groups asked that the area be designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

“What we’d like the BLM to do, and I’m speaking on behalf of a number of conservation organizations, is for BLM to develop an alternative as part of this EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) process that has a ‘no wind’ alternative,   combined with establishing the Castle Mountains ACEC. We think that’s a solid alternative,” O’Neill said, noting there are 19 environmental conservation organizations plus four retired superintendents backing the proposal.

“It seems disingenuous to me that in the overall presentation you’re talking about an impact of 750 acres,” actual area cleared for pads and roads, O’Neill remarked. “It is surrounded by wilderness characteristics with basically no roads, except backcountry roads. Those roads are 10 feet wide, and you’re talking about building 93 miles of new roads 36 feet wide, in addition to 15 miles of road that they’re expanding to 36. The impacts of that are astounding. And you’re talking about a hole in the doughnut. You’re talking about this area surrounded by a protected landscape that many of us in this room have spent literally decades trying to get protected. You’re talking about putting in an industrial-sized development.”

Laura Cunningham, a member of the environmental group Basin and Range Watch, stated, “I would recommend going to this area, like the Castle Mountains in Nevada, and hiking, because I think what’s not being said here is how absolutely beautiful this place is. It is really pristine. There are hardly any roads there.”

Cunningham added, “So, this is a really wild, remote area, really biologically diverse. My group, Basin and Range Watch, we’re going to have a ‘bioblitz’ April 28th and 29th.”

Her group’s website explains that the bioblitz, which is defined as a biological survey in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area, is part of an effort to persuade the BLM to designate roughly 38,000 acres of Nevada desert — which includes the proposed wind farm — as an ACEC.

“I was just hiking there a couple of weeks ago and it’s got a unique, rare Sonoran Desert grassland with Joshua trees and yuccas,” she said. “You get up on some of those low ridges, they don’t look like much on a map, but when you’re there it looks like you’re in East Africa or Namibia. You just don’t see anything — no transmission lines, maybe there’s one road way off in the distance, a dirt road.”

Jose Witt, who said he belongs to the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said that, while there is a need to replace fossil fuel power generation with renewable energy, there also is a need to protect view sheds and wildlife habitat.

“If we put this type of development in the middle of all these protected lands, it ruins the integrity and conservation values of all this area. We fragment the habitat and essentially lose islands of protection, or become islands, because there is no continuity,” Witt said.

Shannon Salter said the Joshua trees in the area need to be protected. “Some of them are over 30 feet tall and they are approximately 900 years old. We need them protected. The name of their forest is the Wee Thump Joshua forest. That word Wee Thump is a Paiute Indian word, which means ancient one,” Slater said.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Newspaper column: Census should ask about citizenship

Ignorance is not bliss.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have sued in an effort to block the 2020 Census from asking about citizenship status, claiming the question will prompt illegal immigrants to not respond and thus result in an undercount of population. That, they say, could result in the loss of congressional representation and federal funding for states, such as California, that have large immigrant populations.

According to the 14th Amendment, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.” That’s the whole number of persons, not just citizens.

The stakes for Nevada are also high.

According to a Pew Research report, in 2012 Nevada’s population included 7.6 percent illegal immigrants, its workforce was 10.2 percent illegals and its school enrollment included 17.7 percent whose parents are not in the country legally. All of those levels were the highest in the nation and climbing.

According to estimates posted by the Census Bureau in July, fully 19.3 percent of Nevada residents were foreign born. Fully 27 percent of Californians were foreign born. The problem is that there is no accurate number for how many of those have attained citizenship or legal residency.

The citizenship question was asked up until 1950 and is still asked on the more detailed American Community Survey that goes to about 2.6 percent of the population each year.

The Census Bureau explains why the citizenship and place of birth questions are on the long form: “We ask about people in the community born in other countries in combination with information about housing, language spoken at home, employment, and education, to help government and communities enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination based on national origin. For example, these data are used to support the enforcement responsibilities under the Voting Rights Act to investigate differences in voter participation rates and to enforce other laws and policies regarding bilingual requirements.”

Those who oppose asking about citizenship status do so under the purely speculative supposition that non-citizens will spurn the census entirely, ignoring the fact the Census Bureau is legally bound by strict confidentiality requirements. It may not share individual data with ICE, the IRS, the FBI, the CIA or anyone.

Additionally, refusing to comply with the Census can result in a $100 fine and providing false data can result in a $500 fine, though reportedly no one has been fined since 1970.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto railed, “This decision trades the accuracy of a census designed to provide complete count of the entire nation’s population for a political win for President Trump. This is a direct attack on immigrant populations that could lead to undercounted and underfunded minority districts across the country. It is an assault on our representative democracy and our Constitution which requires a complete and accurate count of everyone living in the country, no matter their citizenship status.”

Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat, said the citizenship question “politicizes the census and drags its integrity into question. It’s clear that the Trump administration is looking to ensure Nevada’s immigrant communities are underserved and underrepresented for the next decade.”

The mostly Democratic-majority states that are suing over the Census question about citizenship are claiming the knowledge will somehow dilute minority representation, but the opposite is the case.

A Wall Street Journal editorial recently pointed out, “The progressive critics are also missing that Commerce says the Justice Department requested the citizenship question to continue a longtime progressive policy: to wit, enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate by race. Justice supposedly needs detailed data on citizen voting-age population by census block, which the American Community Survey doesn’t provide.”

Hans von Spakovsky explained in an essay penned for The Heritage Foundation, “Citizenship information collected in the 2000 census was vital to our efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act when I worked at the U.S. Department of Justice. When reviewing claims of whether the voting strength of minority voters was being diluted in redistricting, it was essential to know the size of the citizen voting age population.”

So it certainly seems that the self-styled progressives are ignoring the facts, the statistics and the well-being of those they claim to wish to protect.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Customers should be able to shop for electricity

Question 3 on the 2016 General Election ballot — the Energy Choice Initiative — passed by an overwhelming 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent. The measure failed in only one county, White Pine, but by only four votes.

Because the measure would amend the state Constitution it is back on the ballot this fall for final voter approval, but this time around a coalition headed by the state’s largest power monopoly, NV Energy, has vowed to spend $30 million to defeat it.

The Energy Choice Initiative proposes that the Constitution be amended to require the Legislature to pass a law providing an open, competitive retail electric energy market by July 1, 2023. The law must include provisions to reduce customer costs, protect against service disconnections and unfair practices, and prohibit the granting of monopolies for power generation, but could leave in place regulation of transmission or distribution systems.

One of the chief arguments for the measure is that competition would drive down cost.

Nevada and many other states were well on the way to breaking up their electricity generation monopolies 17 years ago until the Enron market manipulation debacle that led to blackouts and price spikes that scared lawmakers into backing off, even though the free market was not the problem. The problem was collusion and manipulation.

According to a Wall Street Journal article at the time, Enron charged California’s Independent System Operator for relieving power congestion without actually doing so. The company also avoided in-state price caps by moving power out of state and then reselling it to California — fraud.

Expect to be inundated in the coming months with “facts and figures” that are wildly contradictory and warnings of another Enron debacle.

Michael Yackira, the former CEO of NV Energy, recently penned an op-ed for the donation-funded news website The Nevada Independent that argued the initiative could jeopardize energy dependability and not lower power bills.

“Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have implemented deregulation,” Yackira writes. “The result: Not one of these has lower rates than Nevada and 11 of these places have higher rates than the national average. When compared to prices throughout the country, Nevada’s prices are below the national average. For example, California’s electricity prices per kilowatt hour are nearly double Nevada’s.”

Days later, Jon Wellinghoff, a backer of the Energy Choice Initiative as well as former general counsel to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, fired back at the same website, saying the initiative is not “deregualtion” at all, because the grid would still be regulated and still operated by the power company and the various rural power cooperatives around the state.

Wellinghoff said it is a basic economic principle that competition lowers costs. “Consider the case of Pennsylvania,” he writes. “Since it enacted energy choice, consumers have saved close to $1 billion per year on their power bills and the residents of Pittsburgh are paying 50 percent LESS for energy than under the monopoly utility, according to former Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commissioner John Hanger.”

He also cited a 2015 study by two veteran utility regulators titled “Evolution of the Revolution: The Sustained Success of Retail Electricity Competition.” That study found that from 1997 to 2014 the states that had adopted customer choice for power saw inflation-adjusted residential rates fall 5.2 percent, while monopoly states saw those rates rise 3.9 percent.

Opponents of the ballot measure like to point out that Nevada’s rates are below the national average and nearly half that of California’s, which has driven up costs by demanding that a huge proportion of its power come from more expensive renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as of December 2017 Nevada power rates for all sectors ranked in the middle of the 11 western states, but since commercial and industrial users get lower rates in Nevada, our residential rates were the third highest in the region 12.34 cents per kilowatt-hour. Arizona’s residential rate was 12.85 cents and California’s 18.48. The lowest was in hydropower rich Washington at 9.63 cents.

Wellinghoff points out that large power consumers such as MGM, Switch, Caesars and Barrick Mining are already paying millions of dollars for the privilege of buying power on the open market — in the case of MGM, $87 million, which must mean they are going to save more than $87 million on the open market.

Why shouldn’t residential customers be able to shop for cheaper power?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Update: An alert reader points out that a 2003 investigation of the power market manipulation determined that the underlying cause was poor regulatory plans. “Staff concludes that supply-demand imbalance, flawed market design and inconsistent rules made possible significant market manipulation as delineated in final investigation report. Without underlying market dysfunction, attempts to manipulate the market would not be successful,” the staff report concluded.