Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and investor Warren Buffett are set for a desert showdown over electricity next week as the two billionaires’ interests collide on election ballots in Nevada.
At issue in the Nov. 6 election is the cost and control of power from the neon lights shining on the Las Vegas Strip to the state’s gold mines.
A measure supported by Republican donor Adelson, who is also Las Vegas Sands Corp’s chairman, would force state legislators to break up control over much of the state’s electricity effectively held by a unit of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, NV Energy. It would allow customers to choose their own power provider by 2023.
Buffett has supported liberal causes and backed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Unlike previous western duels, both sides in Nevada are showing up with cash. The energy tussle is shaping up as one of the more costly of an election season in which Democrats are trying to wrest control of at least one chamber of U.S. Congress from Republicans.
So far, the dueling Nevada interests have poured in more than $96 million to the electricity battle, according to filings with the state government. NV Energy has out-spent Sands nearly 4-to-1.
Hotel-casinos like Sands’ Venetian, whose lights glitter in Las Vegas, are major power customers in the state. Caesars Entertainment Corp, Wynn Resorts Ltd and MGM Resorts International earlier opted to pay tens of millions in exit fees to drop their power provider. Proponents say having a choice on their utility can lower costs. A Sands spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Voters approved the utility proposal in 2016 and need to do so a second time for Nevada’s constitution to reflect the change.
An NV Energy spokeswoman said in a statement the company is backing efforts to defeat the “risky and costly” measure, known as Question 3, “to make sure all Nevadans have the facts” about the potential to “dismantle an electricity system that already provides low costs, increased clean energy production, great customer service and industry-leading reliability.”
The Nevada measure puts more pressure on an industry shaken up by the growth of alternative energy sources, some of which have made it easier for consumers to generate their own electricity.
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U.S. electric utilities have delivered investors a 1.3 percent return, including dividends, over the past year, nearly half the payout from utilities overall.
Since Berkshire acquired it in 2013, NV Energy has made investments in solar, in addition to coal and natural gas power sources. It reached an agreement in 2016 with Elon Musk’s SolarCity Corp that allowed thousands of Nevada rooftop solar customers to take advantage of richer subsidies than under new rate guidelines that NV Energy had supported.