GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson outsmarts himself on Nevada Energy Choice initiative

Voters in Nevada and Arizona will also decide whether they want half their power from renewables by 2030.

Chairman and CEO Las Vegas Sands Corps Sheldon Adelson in Macau on August 28, 2008. CREDIT: MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images.
Chairman and CEO Las Vegas Sands Corps Sheldon Adelson in Macau on August 28, 2008. CREDIT: MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images.

On Tuesday, voters will decide whether Arizona and Nevada embrace the kind of clean energy future needed to avoid catastrophic global warming.

Both states have ballot initiatives requiring their utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewables like solar and wind by 2030.

But in Nevada, the renewables fight is overshadowed by a ballot brawl between billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and billionaire investor Warren Buffett, whose conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway owns the state’s largest utility, NV Energy.

Ballot Question 3 would effectively deregulate the state’s power market, ending the government-regulated monopoly power of NV Energy.


Adelson is backing this so-called the Energy Choice Initiative because he wants to be able to take his Las Vegas Sands casino off the grid — as casino owners like MGM Resorts already have — without paying NV Energy a $24 million exit fee.

But here is where Adelson, who is also the GOP’s single biggest donor in the 2018 election cycle, has outsmarted himself. He and the Las Vegas Sands have already spent over $20 million in support of the initiative. Yet, he appears likely to lose, according to the Politico, because he has been outspent and out-campaigned by Buffet.

Buffet’s utility has put more than $60 million dollars into fighting the initiative, running ads reminding Nevadans that utility deregulation in states like California have lead to higher rates, less reliable power, and even rolling blackouts.

A September poll found the opposition to Question 3 with a nearly 20-point lead. The opponents are “going to win,” Jon Ralston, editor of the Nevada Independent, told Politico. Adelson “certainly should not have let the other side have the field for so long and outspend them the way they did.”

Environmental groups like Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council also oppose Question 3 because they are worried it would undermine renewable energy initiatives by NV Energy. They also believe it would undercut Question 6, the ballot initiative aimed at requiring the state’s utilities to be 50 percent renewable by 2030.

Question 6 is backed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, one of the biggest Democratic donors who has also helped fund ThinkProgress. Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action has put some $6 million into the Question 6 campaign.

Significantly, Buffet and NV Energy are not opposing the pro-renewables initiative.

Meanwhile in Arizona another utility is fighting against that state’s renewable ballot initiative. Pinnacle West — which owns Arizona’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service — has spent $30 million fighting the 50 percent renewables mandate known as Proposition 127.


Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action has also been the biggest backer of proposition 127, putting more than $22 million into the campaign.

The battle for our clean energy future is an expensive one. On Tuesday, we’ll find out where voters stand.