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Warren Buffett and Sheldon Adelson Are Facing Off Over Nevada’s Energy Supply

It’s the biggest race you’ve never heard of.

Two of America’s richest men are pouring money into the Energy Choice Initiative, a proposed amendment to Nevada’s constitution, which will appear on ballots next week as Question 3. Voters will decide whether the state will continue to get the majority of its electricity from NV Energy, a government-regulated monopoly run by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, or whether the market will be opened to new competitors. Sheldon Adelson’s casinos use a lot of that electricity, and he thinks the state would be better off if it had more choices in suppliers.

Each side has put millions into efforts to reject or approve the measure according to their own interests. The ballot question has attracted more than three times as much money as the state’s Senate race between incumbent Republican Dean Heller and Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen, who poses a serious threat. Both sides are promising lower energy prices and more renewable energy sources if they win, reducing much of the campaign to a he-said-he-said. Here are the key arguments.

No on Question 3

Opponents of the constitutional amendment say it would lock the state into a “risky experiment” that would be “very difficult to repeal when things go wrong.” They also lean heavily on cautionary tale of California’s rolling blackouts during the energy crisis of the early 2000s, which was partially caused by deregulation in the energy sector. They also cite cases in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, where energy deregulation led to higher prices.

Yes on Question 3

Supporters of the ballot measure say NV Energy has been over-charging residents and businesses in the state, and that increased competition will secure hundreds of Google jobs in the state and keep money in schools. They also cite energy deregulation success stories, such as New York, where they say energy rates have fallen more than 34% since 2000, when the state opened its market.

Who’s winning?

Nevada requires constitutional amendments to pass twice. The Energy Choice Initiative passed with 72% of the vote in 2016. But polling from September shows that only 32% of likely voters support the measure this time around. If the measure fails, the citizen-initiated constitutional amendment process will be exhausted.