Tesla, Switch backing effort to end NV Energy monopoly

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., unveils the company’s newest product, Powerpack, in Hawthorne, Calif., Thursday, April 30, 2015.

Click to enlarge photo

In this Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, photo, a car drives by a Switch data center in Las Vegas.

Tesla and Las Vegas data company Switch are backing a ballot initiative to create a competitive electricity market, a move that would effectively end NV Energy’s monopoly.

In the past year, both companies have emerged as active players in the debate over the future of energy generation in Nevada.

Though neither was involved with the ballot initiative when it was first announced in February, both firms decided to throw their weight behind it in past weeks as its organizers work to assemble a coalition of support.

Tesla, whose chief executive, Elon Musk, is chairman of SolarCity, weighed in on the rooftop solar debate earlier this year, urging the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada to reconsider a controversial decision to increase fixed fees for solar customers.

More recently, Musk met with legislators and the state’s chief economic development official at his Northern Nevada battery factory to discuss the future of the grid and how storage batteries, which the company is producing at the factory, could work with rooftop solar.

In a statement today, Musk said “solar energy is the cheapest energy today in the state of Nevada and ‘Energy Choice’ will enable Tesla and all Nevadans to choose solar.”

Switch, meanwhile, attempted to leave the grid last year but ultimately negotiated a deal with NV Energy to source exclusively from renewables after the PUC denied its exit application.

Switch CEO Rob Roy said the initiative would be a boost to clean energy.

“Nevada could create unparalleled opportunities in renewable energy that remain largely untapped due to a lack of forward thinking energy policy,” Roy said in the statement.

After announcing the initiative in February and filing it with the Secretary of State’s office, organizers did not disclose who was backing the ballot measure.

In late February, several sources said it was being backed by gaming and technology companies. Matt Griffin, a lobbyist for the Energy Choice Initiative, was not immediately available for comment today.

At least three gaming companies, which consume about 7 percent of NV Energy’s service, have been looking to part ways with the utility and purchase electricity on the open market. Las Vegas Sands Corp., MGM Resorts International and Wynn Las Vegas LLC applied to leave the grid last year.

The PUC granted their exit applications but required them to pay more than $125 million to leave NV Energy. The ballot measure could be a way to avoid the fees.

Wynn and MGM have denied involvement in the initiative in the past.

Ron Reese, a spokesman for Las Vegas Sands, said in February he could neither confirm nor deny Sands was involved.

In the early 2000s, several other gaming companies looked to leave NV Energy.