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.

 

Familiar writer tries his hand at poetry and shows his hand


It is a thin tome,

Just 44 pages

Of 17 themed poems

Devoted to a road trip

To find love and commitment.

 

Devoured it in one sitting

With a plate of leftovers

And a goblet of Rioja.

A satisfying repast.

 

It is “Card Trick

By longtime Nevada writer,

Philosopher, commentator

And humorist John L. Smith.

 

John puts his heart on his sleeve,

Sticks it out the driver-side window

Of his high-milage Subaru

And sallies forth,

So to speak.

 

This is no platonic tonic.

While there are pecks on the cheeks

There are also ruffled sheets —

From Tonopah to Kingman,

From Santa Fe to Baltimore,

From Chloride to Goldfield.

 

Names, places and events

All sound quite authentic.

His canvass is splattered

With verbal impressionism

With dollops of winks and nods,

Elbows to the ribs

And a groaner or a dozen.

 

Like: “it’s not the roses that I love.

“If you’re searching for symbols,

“remember that bunch come April

“after the final snow melt,

“and know that spring hopes eternal.”

 

Like the actor who said

His face was like five miles

Of bad Irish country roads,

John says his is straight

From Rand McNally.

He exaggerates … a bit.

 

He hears songbirds sing.

He smells the sent of lilacs.

He feels “carnivorous tenderness.”

He drinks from the hose

And tastes the salad days.

 

He finds not just affection

But a blonde bond

With a lady who, too,

Is of the writerly persuasion.

Longtime Nevadans can and will

Unlock the secret from his hints.

 

It is no card trick, John.

Just shuffle the deck

And shuffle again

Until at last

You draw a pat hand.

 

Plug in “Card Trick” on Amazon,

Pony up $2.99 for Kindle

Or $6.99 for paperback

Plus shipping, of course.

 

Perhaps it will inspire you

To keep dealing the cards

Until you are dealt a pat hand, too.

Or to better appreciate the hand

You’ve already been dealt.

Court breathes life back into 10th Amendment

In a sports book.

What a refreshing concept: Congress may exercise only those powers granted to it by the Constitution, all other powers belong to the states and the people themselves.

In an opinion issued today, Justice Samuel Alito tossed the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which outlawed sports gambling, though Nevada a couple of other states were grandfathered. The decision was 6-3.

Here is what Alito stated:

The legalization of sports gambling is a controversial subject. Supporters argue that legalization will produce revenue for the States and critically weaken illegal sports betting operations, which are often run by organized crime. Opponents contend that legalizing sports gambling will hook the young on gambling, encourage people of modest means to squander their savings and earnings, and corrupt professional and college sports.

The legalization of sports gambling requires an im­ portant policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make.

 

Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not. PASPA “regulate[s] state governments’ regulation” of their citizens … The Constitu­tion gives Congress no such power.

The long dormant 10th Amendment lives.

 

Newspaper column: Why education spending should be cut

Teachers are walking out of classrooms in Colorado and Arizona, demanding higher salaries and more education funding. Lawmakers are rushing to meet their demands.

Here in Nevada all the candidates for governor are kowtowing to the demand for more education funding.

Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt has declared, “We must continue to move forward, not backward, in the areas where we’ve made great strides. In particular, Nevada policymakers have implemented a series of programs designed to address a critical area — improving early literacy. I’ll continue to champion these promising new programs. I pledge that under my leadership, these programs and our entire public education system will be properly funded — we will never go backwards from our current levels of education spending. I repeat: I will not scale back public education funding.”

His Republican opponent Treasurer Dan Schwartz has said he wants to find a way to wrest the $750 million in tax money earmarked for a Raiders football stadium and redirect it to fund education.

Democratic candidates and currently Clark County Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have both called for more education spending.

“Every child in Nevada deserves the opportunity to succeed and that starts with strong public schools,” Sisolak states on his campaign website. “Steve supports investing in Nevada schools so they have the resources to provide a safe and effective learning environment for all of our kids. He believes that in order to strengthen our schools we need to raise teacher salaries and lower classroom sizes.”

On her website Giunchigliani declares, “Every Nevada child deserves an opportunity to get a quality public education, regardless of their zip code, parents’ salary or ethnicity. As a public school special education teacher for 30 years, I know the difference a quality public education can make in a child’s life. But too many of our kids are in underperforming schools and we’ve failed to bring urgency to this issue. One of my top priorities as governor will be to fix the school funding formula. We need to increase educators’ salaries and reduce class sizes.”

Recently Clark County School Board members held a press conference calling on the governor to call a special session of the Legislature in order to raise taxes to increase education spending. Board member Carolyn Edwards was quoted by the press as saying, “We need to be able to pay our teachers and our employees the raises they deserve.”

Juxtapose that quote against the fact that in January Education Week magazine’s annual “Quality Counts” survey of state-by-state K-12 education ranked Nevada 51st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only 31 percent of Nevada fourth graders are proficient in math and reading. The raises they deserve?

Pardon us for allowing a heretic to sound a sour note in the choir, but George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan has just published a book that — gasp! — says education funding should be cut, because the vast majority of it is wasted. The book is called “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money.”

Caplan estimates that our government agencies alone spend $1.1 trillion in tax money a year on education. That is $3,600 for every person in the country, not every student, every person. He estimates that half of the money doesn’t buy our students any enhanced skills, but merely something he calls “signaling.”

Caplan contends that a high school or college diploma does not mean someone has learned much of anything worthwhile — other than rudimentary literacy and numeracy — but instead signals to potential employers that one is capable of spending long hours doing stultifying menial tasks and conforming to expectations.

To buoy his claims about the inadequacy of the American education system, Caplan cites the General Social Survey of adults that asked 12 elementary true-false science questions. Only 60 percent could answer correctly, when 50 percent should be possible by merely guessing.

“Accounting for guessing, the public’s scientific illiteracy is astonishing,” Caplan writes. “Barely half of American adults known the Earth goes around the sun. Only 32% know atoms are bigger than electrons. Just 14% know that antibiotics don’t kill viruses. Knowledge of evolution barely exceeds zero; respondents would have done better flipping a coin.”

Perhaps there are better things on which we could spend a half a trillion dollars a year.

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.

 

Whither future power bills if voters approve Energy Choice Initiative?

Will power bills go up or down, if voters approve the Energy Choice Initiative on the November ballot? Depends on whose assumptions you believe.

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission, in a 109-page report recently released, claimed passage would cause electricity rates to rise $24.91 a month in Southern Nevada and $6.52 Northern Nevada residential customers, because NV Energy  has threatened to sell off its power generation plants at a loss — even though there is nothing in the initiative requiring such a move.

But a report by the Garrett Group presented to the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice on Wednesday 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.

The Garrett report noted that one can’t use current market power plant sales to make projections, because current sales reflect the fact that all retail customers are captive customers of NV Energy. Market sales, if the initiative passes, would change to reflect the fact that customers no longer would be captive customers.

We suspect NV Energy has threatened to sell off generating plants because under the competitive market the initiative would create the company would no longer be guaranteed a 10 percent rate of return on investments and might have to settle for a smaller profit margin unsatisfactory to billionaire company owner Warren Buffett.

Under the initiative the company or some other entity probably would still maintain a monopoly over transmission and distribution along with a guaranteed return on investment.

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.

Voters will have decide who they believe and what is in their best interests. Capitalism or monopoly?

Story about court hearing apparently falls through a crack

The New York Times proudly displays its motto in its masthead: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

Apparently Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas newspaper is opting for: “All the News That Fits.”

While the paper posted a story online just after 6 p.m. Tuesday about that day’s hearing at the state Supreme Court over whether to allow an initiative that prevent the creation of sanctuary cities in Nevada to appear on the November ballot, the story did not make it into print. That’s something the Sun does.

Actually the Sun posted an abbreviated version of an Associated Press story on the topic before 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Nevada Independent, which has no print version, posted a lengthy story before 2 p.m.

At least those versions were rather balanced in their accounts. The Reno newspaper posted a story after 4 p.m. under the editorializing headline: “Opponents rip into divisive proposed sanctuary cities ban at Nevada Supreme Court hearing.” The account also called the measure polarizing in a subheadline. The story itself was pretty straight forward.