Voters in Nevada and New Mexico on Nov. 3 will decide whether to approve state constitutional amendments that would institute a renewable energy mandate in Nevada and restructure the utility regulatory body in New Mexico.
New Mexico's Constitutional Amendment 1 asks voters to decide whether the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission should remain a five-member elected commission or become a three-member, governor-appointed commission. As in other Western states with appointed commissions, such as Nevada and Colorado, no more than two members could be from the same political party, and appointees would be required to meet certain professional standards.
The New Mexico Legislature in March 2019 overwhelmingly passed a joint resolution that put the amendment on the ballot. With a vote of 36-5 in the Senate and 59-8 in the House, the resolution had substantial bipartisan support (see CEM No. 1551). If voters pass the amendment, changes would take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
Current NMPRC members are split on the amendment, with Chair Stephen Fischmann (D), Theresa Becenti-Aguilar (D), and Jefferson Byrd (R) opposing it. Fischmann and fellow NMPRC member Cynthia Hall (D) in 2019 wrote an op-ed for the Las Cruces Sun-News supporting the amendment, but in an Oct. 11 op-ed for the same publication, Fischmann reversed his position. He wrote that the ballot description misrepresents the fact that commissioners are currently elected by the general public in regional elections and expressed concern that a nominating committee could be swayed by utility influence.
Becenti-Aguilar and Byrd in a March 3, 2019, statement said the amendment "takes a big step backward" and would reduce the commission's geographic representation, and likely its ethnic and racial diversity as well.
They also alleged that Public Service Company of New Mexico spent around $440,000 to try to elect two candidates to the commission in the last election, using money filtered through a political action committee, New Mexicans for Progress. Utilities in New Mexico are prohibited from donating directly to a candidate, but may donate to PACs.
PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval in an emailed statement to California Energy Markets said the company "is committed to working with the NMPRC and staff" whether commissioners are elected or appointed.
The Republican Party of New Mexico in an Oct. 6 news release called the measure a "power grab for the governor" and urged its members to vote no.
The amendment has found support among conservation groups. The Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club in its election guidance said the amendment's passage would result in a commission with greater technical expertise. "With nation-leading renewables requirements and creative mechanisms for worker and community recovery as we transition away from fossil fuels, we need an agile professional regulation commission more than ever," Camilla Feibelman, the group's executive director, told CEM in an email. "Politics have taken over our Commission when leading us to climate solutions should be the priority."
The Natural Resources Defense Council also supports the amendment. "Just as we need experts to guide us through the COVID 19 crisis, we need experts to oversee complicated utility matters that affect every New Mexican," Noah Long, director of the western region's climate and clean-energy program at NRDC, told CEM in an email. "This would be a huge step in ensuring New Mexico builds a thriving clean energy economy."
Hall will be on the ballot for reelection against Janice Arnold-Jones (D) for her District 1 seat, which includes Albuquerque. The fifth commissioner, Valerie Espinoza (D), will be terming out. Former Española Mayor Joseph Maestas will face Libertarian Chris Luchini for Espinoza's District 3 seat, which includes Santa Fe.
Arizona voters will choose three commissioners to serve four-year terms on its five-member commission in statewide elections Nov. 3 (see related story).
Nevadans will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment that would require all retail electric service providers to acquire 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2030. Resources including solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydroelectric would be eligible under the proposed amendment.
The ballot initiative passed in 2018 with around 60 percent voter support, but in Nevada measures that would amend the state constitution must be approved by voters in two consecutive even-numbered years.
Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2019 signed into law SB 358, which codifies an identical renewables portfolio standard requiring electricity providers to derive 50 percent of their total electricity generation from renewables by 2030.
NV Energy in its most recent Portfolio Standard Annual Report, submitted in April to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, reported it had exceeded the 20-percent state RPS requirement, achieving 27.5-percent compliance in 2019 [20-04018].
"NV Energy supports Nevada's Renewable Portfolio Standard of 50 percent by 2030 and has a long-term goal to serve customers with 100 percent renewable energy," NV Energy spokeswoman Kristen Saibini told CEM in an email. Regarding NV Energy's 27.5-percent compliance in 2019, she said that this is the 10th consecutive year the company has exceeded the state's current renewable-energy requirement.