Voters spoke with their ballots on Nov. 7 to fund billions for infrastructure, set new state energy policy and address governing-body political makeup in the off-year election, even with abortion rights a leading ballot issue.  

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 said the new entity would lead to reduced power rates, new investments in grid reliability and lower borrowing costs for capital programs.

Some voter blocs in Maine have been dissatisfied with actions and customer service by the utilities. Central Maine Power, owned by Avangrid, is building a $1-billion hydropower transmission line in western Maine to Canada that was halted after a 2021 ballot referendum that won with 60% voter support, but which was overturned by the state supreme court. Work finally resumed this year after numerous court battles.

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. 

Media speculate the utilities contributed nearly $40 million to defeat the measure.

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.”

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, Beshear’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 company SK On to build an electric vehicle battery manufacturing complex in Glendale, Ky. The $5.8-billion project, set to start production in 2025, joins Envision AESC’s $2-billion plant currently under construction near Bowling Green. 

The projects have also benefited from 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. The project’s $3-billion initial phase calls for producing an estimated 110 million kilograms of green hydrogen annually, plus 70 million kg of storage capacity in underground salt caverns—although the state proposal was not selected last month for a share of $7 billion in U.S. 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. When complete, Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind would be the largest in the U.S.

Youngkin, in the middle of a single four-year term, also has 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 the makeup of the state legislature, leaving Democrats with large majorities in both chambers. Renewable energy programs in the state have been the subject 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 ambitious state clean energy goal, which calls for 100% clean energy by 2050 and 11 GW of offshore wind by 2040, will remain intact for now with potential revisions unclear. 

Funding measures find success

Texas voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 7, a constitutional amendment that creates a $10-billion energy fund to 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 to repair current power facilities and strengthen 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 caused about 240 deaths.  

The measure was supported by oil, gas and chemicals firms and business groups, but opposed by environmental advocates and the Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance, which represents low-carbon energy companies.

Critics callied the fund a “giveaway” to natural gas producers that would have 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, who also approved a separate amendment to create a similar $1-billion fund for water infrastructure repairs and boosted water supplies. A new $1.5-billion fund to expand internet access in the state’s rural areas also passed by a wide margin.

Schools, Transportation Gain

Texans also boosted their support of school construction measures this year, approving at least half of about $18 billion proposed by 75 school districts, according to the Texas Tribune.  Voters in the Conroe Independent School District, a Houston suburb, approved about $2.5 billion to build eight new schools.

Elsewhere, 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.

Voters In Polk County, Iowa, 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 $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, 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 Dan Tyson, Annemarie Mannion, Derek Lacey and Debra K. Rubin