Results in Down-Ticket Races Provide Energy Industry Some Election Certainty
November 5, 2020 - While federal-level election results remained uncertain the morning after the Nov. 3 U.S. election, a number of state-level races and ballot initiatives with energy industry impacts had been decided.
In several states, voters decided on ballot measures that could significantly affect energy policy, including altering how the members of their state utility commission are selected or revising energy-related taxes.
Voters in some states also made their voices heard on who would represent their interests on key utility regulatory bodies and to choose among governors and state legislators who stood to shape crucial energy and environmental policies.
The following is a round-up of some of the energy-related results from across the country.
Louisiana voters backed amending the state constitution to allow the presence or production of oil or gas to be taken into account when assessing the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem property tax purposes. The measure enjoyed support from industry and government groups.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment to cut the number of commissioners on the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission from five to three members. Also under the amendment, instead of being elected by New Mexican voters, utility regulators be appointed by the governor, as is the policy in most states.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb held onto his seat against Democrat Woody Myers. Myers had strongly backed renewables, while Holcomb recently signed a law to pause coal plant retirements and in 2017 signed legislation to phase out net metering.
Gov. Chris Sununu won his reelection campaign, defeating state Sen. Dan Feltes, who pushed a pro-solar and net metering agenda. Sununu, a former environmental engineer, repeatedly has opposed renewable energy proposals from lawmakers, including several net metering bills.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper won reelection in his race against Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Under Cooper's direction, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality crafted the state's Clean Energy Plan, which calls for up to a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels.
Cooper's administration weathered a controversy involving a multi-million-dollar fund for the state tied to the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality in August denied a water quality certificate for Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum defeated Democratic challenger Shelley Lenz. In a state whose economy is dominated by fossil fuel production and consumption, Burgum supported the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who has been dubbed by some as the "greenest governor in the country," defeated Republican challenger Loren Culp. Inslee signed legislation in 2019 requiring his state's utilities to move to a carbon-neutral electricity supply by 2030 and generate 100% renewable energy by 2045.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice easily won reelection in his race against Democratic challenger Ben Salango. Justice, a billionaire coal executive, has signed bills that provide tax breaks to coal plants. Salango's campaign website said his goal was to bring in foreign investment and "market and sell West Virginia's energy to the world."
With all 170 seats in the North Carolina General Assembly were on the ballot, Republicans maintained their control of the Legislature. This result could have implications for stalled efforts to implement multiyear rate plans for utility subsidiaries of Duke Energy Corp. and Dominion Energy Inc. In late October 2019, lawmakers dropped the controversial proposal in Senate Bill 559 over concerns Cooper would veto the bill. Republicans could revisit the multiyear rate plan, which was crafted with help from Duke Energy. A portion of the bill signed into law does allow the utilities to securitize or recover storm costs through the issuance of bonds.
The Republican-led Ohio Legislature has been under fire in recent months as lawmakers grapple with the potential repeal of the state's controversial nuclear subsidy law amid a criminal investigation. However, Republicans maintained control of both legislative chambers, holding off a potential Democratic surge.
Public Service Commissions
Incumbent Commissioner Brian Kroshus has maintained his seat on and Republican control of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, fending off a challenge from Democrat Casey Buchmann. Buchmann, who ran in part on a platform of limiting utility rate hikes and increased pipeline inspections, also lost in a 2018 special general election against Kroshus.
Republican Jim Wright, a rancher and the owner of several South Texas oilfield services firms, has been elected to serve on the Texas Railroad Commission for a six-year term, an expected outcome on the heavily Republican board. Wright opposes tighter restrictions on natural gas flaring.