More than 3,000 years later, another desert exodus is upon us. Customers yearn to break free from NV Energy, the sole electricity provider in most of Nevada. Escaping a monopolist’s grip pales in moral magnitude to the Exodus, but it’s still cause to celebrate and feast.

At least four companies have actively pursued escaping the NV Energy monopoly since 2015, looking to find cheap and clean power on the wholesale electricity market. Motivated by customer demand, many companies actively seek to procure 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources. They’ve found better deals from competitive energy suppliers than NV Energy’s green power offering. Of the four companies known to have pursued access to competitive sources of renewable energy – a group that also includes Las Vegas Sands Corp., Wynn Resorts and the data-storage company Switch – only MGM Resorts International has reached the competitive promised land.

Achieving and maintaining freedom from a regulated power monopoly are arduous tasks. The model is not built to accommodate individual choice. Escape to an alternate supplier requires a complex regulatory process, coupled with an exit fee. The fee is largely premised on ensuring the utility recovers costs it incurred to meet expected demand from the customer or customers that look to exit. Under the regulated model, the state guarantees that utilities can recover their costs; losing customers could shift some of those costs to other customers. Such regulatory barriers have inhibited customers, even sophisticated ones with deep pockets, from leaving NV Energy and purchasing power on the open market.

MGM, the sole escapee, agreed to pay around $87 million in fees to exit this fall. Wynn also prefers to leave, but the $16 million exit fee may prove prohibitive. Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Switch saw the fees they would have been charged – $24 million and $27 million, respectively – and determined the price was too high.

Frustrated by regulatory headaches and exit fees, a consortium of gaming and tech companies are seeking to remove barriers for all Nevadans to choose their electricity supplier. Las Vegas Sands, Switch, MGM, Tesla and others are backing the Energy Choice Initiative. This ballot initiative would change the state Constitution to give customers the right to choose their energy provider. Specifically, it would establish an open, competitive retail electricity market, whereby customers would freely choose the electricity supplier that suits them best. The initiative must obtain 55,000 signatures from registered voters by June 21 to qualify for the November ballot.

Success will require overcoming past ghosts. The first attempt to introduce electricity competition in Nevada began in the 1990s. The plan would have introduced competition at the retail and wholesale levels. It derailed over fears that stemmed from instability in California’s competitively restructured power market.

Fortunately, many lessons have been learned since the California market dilemma. In particular, the flaws in market design and monitoring that gave rise to chronic instability and manipulation by companies like Enron no longer exist. Electricity competition is no longer experimental. In fact, competitive power markets are thriving in many parts of the country today.

In retail choice states like Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania, customers can choose from dozens of electricity suppliers, many of which procure their power entirely from clean-energy sources. While regulated utilities sometimes offer clean-power options, competitive markets provide a much broader array of alternatives. Beyond encouraging suppliers to provide power from a variety of sources, it also drives these suppliers to reduce costs and lower prices. The quality of customer service also improves when companies compete, relative to that received from a complacent monopolist.

The diversity of customer preferences highlights the benefit of letting customers choose among a variety of power suppliers. For example, green power usually comes at a premium, but many customers are willing to pay for it. Customers differ widely on this and other preferences, such as the premium they’d pay for bill stability. Retail choice creates a menu of options that reflect these preferences and allow customers to choose their own path.

Customers in retail choice states can switch providers at will, avoiding the fees and regulatory haggling of seeking to exit a regulated utility. This makes life easier for large companies, but small companies and residential customers may benefit most. Small players lack the resources to pursue regulatory filings to expand their options under the restrictive regulated monopoly model. Consider that, despite escaping NV Energy, MGM supports the Energy Choice Initiative out of belief that “other consumers should have similar freedom of choice.”

Democratizing the grid empowers customers and benefits the environment. Some of Nevada’s biggest power customers recognize that competitive markets, not a regulated utility, will provide customers with better service. The state should follow suit. May the power of customer choice liberate Nevadans and spur innovation for a brighter tomorrow.

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