Tom Steyer’s Nevada Constitutional Amendment Question 6 was placed on the ballot in 2018 by the eccentric California billionaire, Tom Steyer. It proposes to mandate 50% “renewable” electricity by 2030. Steyer provided almost all of the campaign funds of approximately $10 million. The provision passed with 59% of the vote. Question 6 will be on the 2020 ballot for final approval. Presumably Steyer will be back in 2020 with similar spending to push this scheme on Nevadans.
This is what I wrote about Tom Steyer in a 2015 opinion article:
Tom Steyer is a wealthy climate activist based in San Francisco. His father was a partner in the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, John Foster Dulles's old firm. His wife, Kathryn (Kat) Taylor, is the granddaughter of the former president of the Crocker National Bank. Steyer went to Yale, and his wife went to Harvard. They both have professional degrees from Stanford. Tom Steyer made more than a billion dollars as chairman of the investment firm Farallon Capital. Ironically, his firm invested heavily in coal. He may not have had the global warming religion back then.
Steyer is like a slightly daffy English nobleman who discovers socialism and pesters his servants, trying to understand their lives. Steyer even has the modern equivalent of a noble estate – the 1,800-acre TomKat Ranch on the California coast. There he raises Leftcoast Grassfed beef.
Tom and Kat (regular folks) started a bank the stated purpose of which is to help homeowners in financial trouble. That's called noblesse oblige.
Steyer spent more than $50 million to get global warming believers elected in 2014. Unfortunately for him, there was a Republican sweep. Steyer has been mentioned as a candidate to take retiring Barbara Boxer's California Senate seat. Boxer, often considered the dumbest senator, is a fanatical supporter of global warming alarmism. Steyer would clearly be a senator very similar to Boxer.
To update this, Steyer is now running for president, although not making any apparent headway. Concerning Steyer one is tempted to invert the saying: “If you’re so smart, how come you aren’t rich?” If you are willing to spend $10 million dollars in a small state like Nevada, there is probably little limit on how ridiculous a proposition you can pass.
In order to amend the Nevada constitution, Question 6 must be approved again in the 2020 election. If passed, a great expansion of solar energy would take place rapidly during the next 10-years. The nature of renewable resources in Nevada indicate that the main path to 50% renewable electricity would be solar. Although the provisions of Question 6 have already been enacted into law by the legislature (SB358), the legislature can easily modify or repeal these provisions. But if renewable energy is frozen into the constitution the difficult procedure to amend the constitution would have to be repeated to stop this renewable energy mistake.
A detailed calculation below computes the result that the 50% by 2030 mandate will increase the average household’s electric bill by $59 per month or 53%. It will be closer to $100 per month for families in stand-alone houses and more in Las Vegas. Particularly in the summer the Las Vegas high air conditioning loads will make the increase be $200 or more per month.
The calculation assumes that the cost will be borne by residential customers because I assume business and industrial consumers will be able to defend themselves as they have recently by threatening to use other providers or mobilizing their political clout. In any case, much of any increase on business and industry would be passed to households as higher prices for many goods.
Given that electric rate increases will be unpopular there will be a temptation to follow California and try to shift the cost to segments of the population with fewer votes. This is done by subsidies for “low income” and tiered rates for big residential users. That is justified as encouraging people to use less electricity. Plenty of people in California are paying 50-cents per kilowatt hour on the margin. That is 4 times what we currently pay in Nevada. Tiered rates have the additional advantage of encouraging rooftop solar, seen as a bonus by the advocates of solar. Rooftop solar is extremely expensive compared to utility scale solar and will increase the burden on those without rooftop solar as well as the overall cost to society.
After 10-years and financing $22 billion Nevada would reduce CO2 emissions by less than 6 million tons per year. At their current rate of emissions growth China and India together are increasing their annual emissions by about 250 million tons per year or 6 million tons every 8 days. Nevada’s 10-year and $22 billion investment would be wiped out forever by only 8 days of emissions increase in China plus India.
Increasing this amount of solar in 10-years will be difficult. Because solar output is concentrated in the middle of the day, much of the middle of the day power must be stored and then released in the late afternoon and early evening when it is needed. This is done with batteries in the proposed Gemini project. In the Crescent Dunes solar project it is done by storing heat in molten salts and then using the heat to generate power later in the day. The Crescent Dunes project, in spite of exorbitant cost and generous subsidies, is so far a failure because it has been out of service for months on two occasions due to leaks in the salt tank.
It must be stressed that this project would not be an ordinary engineering project. The use of very large batteries to supplement solar is new and may not work out according to theory. In Arizona such a battery turned into a spectacular fire. The batteries wear out in about 5-years and have to be replaced at costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The heat storage at Crescent Dunes has been a failure as has the California equivalent plant, Ivanpah, just across the border on Highway I-15. The owners of the Ivanpah plant requested an increase in rates because the plant was failing and the California PUC gave it to them. When there are mandates for renewable energy frozen into law the owners of solar plants are in a position to demand modifications to contracts because they have the PUC's over a barrel. The PUC has to have the renewable energy. The bottom line is that this gigantic moonshot has every prospect of turning into a gigantic boondoggle and political scandal.
Details of Calculation The following is mainly for engineering types.
Nevada electricity sales 2017 36.7 million megawatt hours.
For 2020: 36.7*1.02^3 = 38.9 million megawatt hours. For 2030 =36.7*1.02^13 =47.5
Currently 20% of Nevada’s electricity is renewable – mostly geothermal and solar.
Existing renewable: 38.9*.2= 7.8 million megawatt hours. Needed for 50% renewable = 47.5*.5=23.75 million megawatt hours New Solar needed = 23.75-7.8 = 16 million megawatt hours per year.
Average new solar output needed = 16,000,000/8760 (8760 hours per year) = 1826 megawatts.
Solar nameplate capacity needed is approximately 5 times as large assuming 20% capacity factor.
Solar nameplate capacity required = 1826/0.20 = 9125 megawatts.
Bare solar costs about $1,200,000 per megawatt nameplate. However it must be supplemented by batteries to have any hope of reaching 50% renewable by 2030 due to poor time distribution of generation for bare solar. This approximately doubles the cost to $2,400,000 per megawatt.
For 9125 megawatts the total investment = 9124*2,400,00 = $21.9 billion.
Assume a 25% federal subsidy and this becomes: $16.4 billion
To amortize 16.4 billion over 25 years at 6% interest rate use the excel PMT function:
=PMT(.06,25,16.4e9) = $1.28 billion per year.
Additional natural gas plants must be constructed to handle increase in power consumption from 36.7 to 47.5 megawatt hours per year. 47.5-36.7 = 10.8 million megawatt hours.
Additional gas plants are necessary because widespread cloud cover in July will disable all solar in the state and natural gas will have to handle the peak load characteristic of the hottest time of year.
To provide 10.8 million megawatt hours the nameplate capacity would be 10.8e6/8760 = 1232 megawatts. However, to handle peaks approximately double this nameplate amount or 2500 megawatts would be required. The capital cost will be about $1,000,000 per megawatt or $2.5 billion. Amortized over 25 years at 6% this would be $180 million per year.
This increases the payment from $1.28 billion to $1.46 billion per year.
The increase of $59 per month for the average household includes many apartments with 1 or 2 residents. For families in Las Vegas with kids and larger houses, the increase can be well over $100 per month. For Las Vegas in summer the number could be doubled, to an increase of $200 per month.
Emissions Natural gas emits 117 lbs of CO2 per million Btu. To generate a megawatt hour of electricity in a combined cycle natural gas plant operating at 50% thermal efficiency requires 7,000,000 Btu. This will result in emission of:
(7000000/1000000)*117 = 820 lbs CO2 emitted per megawatt hour
Since 16 million megawatt hours of gas electricity become solar electricity, the emission saving per year is:
16,000,000*820/2204 = 5.95 million metric tons of CO2 saved per year (metric ton is 2204 lbs)
In 2017 emissions from all sources
China plus India 13.3 billion metric tons.
In 2002 China plus India emissions were 4.9 billion metric tons – the Increase over 15 years was 8.1 billion metric tons or 540 million metric tons per year.
In one year, emission of China + India increased by 540/5.95 = 90 times more than Nevada’s reduction from the 10-year plan. The effect of the Nevada 10-year plan would be countered by 365/90 = 4 days of China + India rate of increase of emissions. To be conservative and because the rate of increase in China + India shows a slowing, as well as the general unreliability of Chinese statistics, I doubled this estimate to 8-days.
The emission saving from the 10-year Nevada plant of 5.95 tons per year is (540*10)/5.95 or about 1000 times less than the increase in annual emissions from China + India during the same period. I halved this for the same reasons as above to 500 times.
For 2017 it is difficult to find an exact number for CO2 emissions as various sources disagree, some limited to fossil fuel emissions and other including all emissions. In addition, there were publications to the effect that Chinese emissions have been underestimated by up to 17%. My estimate of 13.3 billon tons for China + India is a linear extrapolation of the previous trend prior to 2014.