Project Funding Dollars and Issues Still Weighed on Off-Year Ballots | Columbus Ohio Dump Trucks
Voters spoke with their ballots to fund billions for infrastructure and set new energy policy in states across the U.S. on Nov. 7, although the outcomes were largely overshadowed by measures related to abortion rights and changes in governing body political makeup in the 2023 off-year elections.
In what was seen as a bellwether contest for giving ratepayers a greater say in power companies’ environmental policies, Maine voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to replace its two largest investor-owned electric utilities—Central Maine Power and Versant—with a statewide consumer-owned provider called Pine Tree Power Co. Supporters had asserted that the new entity would lead to lower power rates, increased investments in grid reliability and lower borrowing costs for capital programs.
Opponents such as Gov. Janet Mills (D) and the well-funded Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, which included construction industry groups and labor unions, countered that acquiring the existing utilities’ assets and infrastructure would be prohibitively expensive and likely be stalled by years of litigation.
In a statement, the coalition said Maine voters “rejected billions of dollars in debt, and they rejected the risk and uncertainty that came with it.”
Some voter blocs in Maine had been dissatisfied with actions and customer service of its two corporate utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant. The former, owned by Avangrid, is building a $1-billion hydropower transmission line in western Maine to Canada that was halted after a ballot referendum in 2021, which was overturned by the state supreme court. After other challenges, columbus oh dump truck work finally resumed this year after numerous court battles.
Media speculate the utilities contributed nearly $40 million to defeat the measure.
Statehouse and state legislature candidates favoring renewable energy programs had better luck at the ballot box.
Infrastructure Issues in Statehouse Votes
In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won a second term, defeating Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. While both expressed support for the state’s coal industry, Bashear’s administration has also promoted development of a clean energy manufacturing sector, including offering $250 million in state incentives to lure Ford and South Korean battery technology Charlotte NC dump trucks company SK On to build a 3,600-acre acre electric vehicle assembly complex and battery manufacturing plant in Glendale, Ky. The $5.8-billion project, set to get underway in 2025, joins Envision AESC’s $2-billion, 300-million-sq-ft plant currently under construction near Bowling Green.
The projects have also benefitted from generous federal funds under recent infrastructure laws.
Also winning re-election was Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who defeated Democrat Brandon Presley, a member of the state’s utility oversight commission.
A proponent of continued oil and gas development along the state’s Gulf Coast, Reeves also backed Hy Stor Energy’s efforts to secure federal funding to develop the Mississippi Clean Hydrogen Hub, a 76,500-acre facility dedicated to producing renewable-based green hydrogen.
The project’s $3-billion initial phase calls for producing an estimated 110 million kilograms (kg) of green hydrogen annually, plus 70 million kg of storage capacity in underground salt caverns, but the state proposal was not selected last month for a share of $7 billion in US Energy Dept. funding.
Virginia’s clean energy and carbon emission reduction policies appear to be safe for another two years after Democrats gained full control of the state General Assembly by holding on to the state Senate and flipping three seats to achieve a majority in the House of Delegates.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who has touted an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that also includes fossil fuels and nuclear power, had called for “re-evaluating” the Virginia Clean Economy Act in the upcoming legislative session, calling it a burden on consumers and business. Enacted in 2020 when Democrats previously held legislative majorities and the governor’s office, the law mandates 100% renewable electricity generation in the state by 2050, as well as improvements in energy efficiency.
State-based utility Dominion Energy is to start construction next year of a 2.6-GW offshore wind energy project, Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind, which when completed would be the largest in the U.S.
Youngkin, who is in the middle of a single four-year term, has also hinted at using executive authority to withdraw Virginia from the 11-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Environmental attorneys have asserted that such a move can be done only with legislative approval.
In New Jersey, Republicans were unable to substantially change makeup of the state legislature, leaving Democrats with large majorities in both chambers. Renewable energy programs in the state have been the source of contentious debate as recent opinion polls have indicated waning public interest due to cost. The administration of Gov. Phil Murphy (D) was stung by last month’s developer cancellation of two planned multi-billion-dollar offshore wind projects set to total 2.25-GW, which had received a legislatively approved tax break earlier this year.
But the statehouse results indicate Murphy's ambitous state clean energy goal will remain intact.
Funding measures find success
Texas voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 7, a constitutional amendment creating a $10-billion energy fund that will address the state’s struggling energy grid. Separate from the state’s general revenue fund, the new program will offer 3% interest rate loans to construct new gas-fired power generation facilities of 100-MW or more, with bonus payments to facilities that come online by July 2029.
Part of the funding is set aside for repairing current power facilities and strengthening grids around crucial facilities, such as hospitals, with other monies for new microgrids and grid modernization.
Proposition 7 resulted after the 2021 fatal winter storm that left millions of Texans without power and more than 240 people dead.
Opposition to the proposal was strong, with critics calling the fund a “giveaway” to natural gas producers with scant benefits to the failing grid. Texas Consumer Association president Sandie Haverlah told the Texas Tribune that funding could be better used to invest in energy efficiency upgrades.
But the measure was endorsed by more than two-thirds of Texas voters, as well as a separate amendment creating a similar $1-billion fund for water infrastructure repairs and securing new water supplies. A new $1.5-billion fund to expand internet access in the state’s rural areas also passed by a wide margin.
A $2.5-billion school facilities bond approved by Mecklenburg, N.C., voters paves the way for 30 projects in Charlotte and the surrounding area, including multiple new high schools totaling more than $600 million. The package accounts for cost escalation over the program’s expected five- to ten-year buildout, with the total delivery cost potentially decreasing if inflationary pressures ease.
In Polk County, Iowa, voters overwhelmingly approved a $350-million bond issue to support the initial 270,000-sq-ft phase of the Des Moines International Airport terminal expansion program.
The use of low-interest general obligation bonds will save approximately nearly $80 million in funding costs, according to the Des Moines Airport Authority. Full construction on the two-year, six-gate project is set to begin in April 2024, with two additional phases planned as passenger traffic needs dictate.
Proceeds from the bond sale will fund part of the first phase of construction on the $770 million project. The Weitz Co., in joint venture with Turner Construction, will lead construction of Phase 1A. Construction began in October. Kansas City, Mo.-based HNTB is designing the project.
—With files from Dan Tyson, Annemarie Mannion, Derek Lacey and Debra K. Rubin