Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ask the Public Utility Commission to Say NO to El Paso Electric

The El Paso Electric Company wants to destroy the rooftop solar industry in El Paso. Instead, EPEC and our city should encourage the growth of this industry. However it seems as if those who advise the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) are going to recommend a lower raise in rates (but a raise nevertheless) while, at the same time, going along with EPEC's creating a new rate class for those who have rooftop solar and punishing them with much higher rates. (See my earlier post.) If you use solar now or want to do so in the future and you want to encourage the growth of this energy source, then write the Public Utility Commission and tell them to say NO to El Paso Electric. Jim Schwarzbach has made it easy for you to do this.

Visit El Paso Clean Energy, a web site created by Schwarzbach. He encourages us to write our own letter on our own stationery with our own ink signature. He provides this address:

Reference Case: 44941
Public Utility Commission of Texas
Attn: Filing Clerk
1701 N Congress Avenue

Austin TX 78711-3326

However, if you just want to send a letter with a few key strokes, then he has created sample letters that you can fill out. Just follow the instructions.

Please know that you can make a difference but you really do have to act. His FAQ page reveals that, as of yesterday (12/28/2015) El Paso Electric has filed 223 documents in the rate case, yet only 15 protest letters have been filed.

El Paso Electric is terrified that they will lose total control of our energy options. In the blog associated with the El Paso Clean Energy site, Jim writes:

". . .EPEC is scared of their shareholders losing profits when customers use clean solar power.  They want everybody to continue using the power they generate instead of allowing the homeowner to generate some, and they want to do this by segregating solar customers out from all the other customers and discriminating against them in a punitive manner.  Imagine if your grocery store decided to charge you more for meat and bread if you decided to start growing your own vegetables."

Monday, December 28, 2015

Transmountain Snow: A Video by GarLapse

I didn't want to wait until this coming Friday to use the video below as the Friday video. My brother Paul, who lives in California, forwarded an email circulating among his Austin High School Classmates of '59 with the link to the video. We all enjoyed the snow yesterday. There were 10 inches or more at my home. GarLapse (see and subscribe to his YouTube channel) did the following aerial yesterday along Transmountain on the west side of our mountains. See how beautiful the natural landscape is. If you want a nightmare, imagine ticky tacky sprawl and not pristine landscape. One caveat: if you get elpasonaturally by email, you won't be able to see the video. Go to to see it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Help Preserve Castner Range with Letter to President Obama

Mexican Poppies on Castner Range. Photo by Chuck Kooshian

Sample Letter to Presdident Obama

Earlier today I went to the Frontera Land Alliance Office to turn in some letters to the Executive Director, Janae' Reneaud Field. She told me that we have until January 20, 2016 to get the first 1,000 letters to President Obama asking him to designate Castner Range as a National Monument.

You can download a sample letter (above) by clicking on the title. Download, print, fill out (you can hand print), sign and mail or email the letter  to Janaé Reneaud Field, Frontera Land Alliance, 3800 N. Mesa St., Suite A2-258. El Paso, TX 79902. E-mail:

Please don't return to the President. We want to collect all the letters first and then send them.

You can learn more about the effort to preserve Castner Range as a National Monument by visiting:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Now the Hard Work Begins

It was a slam dunk to get El Paso City Council to say "no" to the El Paso Electric Company's proposed rate hikes. It will be a whole different game with the Public Utility Commission of Texas. They are supposed to take up EPEC's case on January 15, 2016. Such cases usually take 30 days.

The El Paso Times reported yesterday (PUC staff: Electric rate request $17M too high) that a PUCT staff report recommended a lower rate hike. However, "[t]he PUC staff also allowed the utility to keep its proposed new rate class for residential customers with rooftop solar systems, which would increase those customers' electric rates more than regular residential customers. That proposal is being fought by solar-system installers, homeowners with solar systems and others."

Jim Schwarzbach of El Paso Title commented on Facebook today:

"In Friday's PUC filings, there is one staff recommendation that is troublesome. Brian T. Murphy, a Senior Rate Analyst in the Tariff and Rate Analysis Section of the Rate Regulation Division gave direct testimony on 12/18.

"In this direct testimony he clearly states that he thinks the city/county and university rate classes should go away, but he never mentions partial rate class by name. However, when asked if he supports the Company's proposed classes for the purpose of cost allocation he states 'Yes' without hesitation. He also states that:

"'It is equally important to adjust rate components in the rate design phase to address intra-class subsidies so that the charges experienced by customers within a class are more representative of cost. When customers within a class have not been bearing their fair share cost, it is appropriate to change the rate structure by adjusting the relationships among the existing rate components, or by introducing new, more accurate rate components, so that the charges experienced by customers more accurately represent the costs incurred by the utility to provide services to the customers.'

"I think that statement is his way of saying the residential rate class should be split into solar and non-solar, but he doesn't have the scrotal contents to come out and say it.

"I'm hoping that more staff direct testimony will be filed in the next few days. I also hope these are just recommendations and that the solar penalty known as partial requirement services can be thrown out—but I would have felt a lot better if Brian Murphy had come out against EPEC trying to kill solar."

All of this means that more than ever before, the people of El Paso must make it clear that they want the rooftop solar industry to be protected and they want it to grow with more incentives for people of all incomes to go solar.

The good news is that "U.S. lawmakers agreed to extend tax credits for solar and wind for another five years. This will give an unprecedented boost to the industry and change the course of deployment in the U.S." See Bloomberg Business report, What Just Happened in Solar Is a Bigger Deal Than Oil Exports. (Be sure to watch the video.)

Eco El Paso is a non-profit leading the fight for the rooftop solar industry and user here in El Paso against EPEC's attempt to destroy that industry. Board member, Shelby Ruff, urged people to write the PUC in this email:

"Eco El Paso needs your help!

"We are intervening against El Paso Electric at the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas to stop them from raising our electric rates and attacking solar homeowners by creating a new rate class that penalizes solar homeowners.

"PLEASE WRITE A LETTER TO THE PUC of TEXAS TODAY! Tell them NO to rate hikes and attacks on solar homeowners.

"Public Utility Commission of Texas
Attn: Filing Clerk
Rate Case #44941
1701 N. Congress Ave.

Austin, TX 78711-3326" 

Be sure to donate whatever you can to Eco El Paso. 

Also visit Citizens Against El Paso Electric's Attack on Solar on Facebook.

The really hard work begins now.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Is EPEC's Strategy To Be Bought Out?

El Paso Electric Company looks toward the Public Utility Commission of Texas to save their rate hike proposal in El Paso which includes putting rooftop solar customers into a special rate class while raising their rates by nearly 25%.  On December 8th, the El Paso City Council voted unanimously against the proposed rate increases and the “attack” on solar homeowners.

The El Paso Sierra Group has supported Eco El Paso financially in its effort to intervene against El Paso Electric both at City Council and now, most probably, in front of the PUCT.

Jefferies, a stock analysis group, predicted that EPEC’s game plan all along has been to take the matter before the Utility Commission. Jefferies reported: “[T]he company will take the long road to Austin for a litigated decision.” 
However, EPEC’s longer-range game plan may be more contemptible. In an interview with outgoing EPEC CEO, Tom Shockley, the El Paso Times revealed that he had been an officer of a company in the 1990’s which tried to take over El Paso Electric. Although that attempt failed, the EP Times reports that “Shockley said El Paso Electric may be courted by larger utility companies in the future.”

The implications of his statement are shocking. It seems that El Paso (and New Mexico) ratepayers are footing the bill for large infrastructure projects and exorbitant rates attractive to shareholders in order to make EPEC a more viable and lucrative takeover target.

The PUCT hearing is set for early next year.

Visit to help the fight against EPEC.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

O'Rourke Seeks National Monument Designation for Castner Range

The office of Beto O'Rourke announced just a few minutes ago that Rep. O'Rourke has introduced legislation to preserve Castner Range. The proposed legislation is in concert with a current letter campaign which asks President Obama to use his "authority under the Antiquities Act to protect the Castner Range landscape in western Texas as a national monument that honors the cultural, historical, scientific and environmental connections to the region."

You can download the letter from HERE. After printing it and signing, send to Janaé Reneaud Field, Executive Director, Frontera Land Alliance, 3800 N. Mesa St., Suite A2-258, El Paso, TX 79902 or email

Congressman O'Rourke's office issued this press release:

"Today Congressman Beto O'Rourke introduced the Castner Range National Monument Act. Castner Range is a 7,081-acre mountain range surrounded by the Franklin Mountains State Park in Northeast El Paso. This bill would protect Castner Range in perpetuity by making it a national monument.

The bill is the result of a community effort led by the Frontera Land Alliance, the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition and other environmental community leaders who have been working to protect Castner Range since the 1970s.

O’Rourke’s legislation will ensure that the public can continue to enjoy these lands forever while shining a national spotlight on El Paso. Castner Range would become the first national monument in West Texas and also the largest in any major metropolitan U.S. city. A national monument designation would also help El Paso realize new opportunities for economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation.

This legislation eventually transfers the mountain range from the Department of Defense (DoD) to the Department of Interior.

Congressman Beto O’Rourke said, “Castner Range is the crown jewel of West Texas. It deserves to be protected and preserved in its natural state. This legislation is written to do just that. I am grateful to the Frontera Land Alliance, the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition and our environmental and community partners for helping me write this legislation.”

For more information:
The Frontera Land Alliance's Castner Range Facebook page and Twitter page should soon be live.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Unnatural Paths at Wilderness Park

I've been posting about Parks and Rec's exploits on the land surrounding the Museum. (The 17 acres owned by the City were first known as “the Wilderness Park.” There have been some objections to using that old name for the Museum grounds.) I visited there today and will have more to say in the days to come about what is happening. For now, I just want to point out one horrendous fact: El Paso's Parks and Recreation Department is contributing to the destruction of the Franklin Mountains.

The work on the old paths includes spreading red rock chat (screenings) which most probably came from the CEMEX quarry at McKelligon Canyon. (I'm checking.) Although pretty, red rock paths are not natural. What they really are is rock dynamited out of the side of the mountain, crushed and then spread in landscapes.

If you like the destruction of the Franklin Mountains, you will love how Parks and Rec is contributing to it. Red chat screenings do not rock.

Makes me sick.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Friday Video: A Sneak Peek at the Benefits of Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

[If you receive elpasonaturally by email, the video will not be embedded. Go to to view.]

Big thanks to Rep. Peter Svarzbein for today's video. In his District 1 email today, Rep. Svarzbein announced two initiatives. Here is what he wrote:

"This week, our office made significant advancement in placing two policy items on council’s agenda related to transportation oriented development (TOD) and the renewable energy industry here in the El Paso Borderplex. The purpose of which is to think visionary, grow the commercial tax base so we can keep good jobs here, and hold the line on taxes for homeowner’s while making El Paso more competitive economically and culturally.

"The first item discussed and acted upon by council will expand the city’s Sustainable City Center economic incentives along our BRIO transit corridors. Currently, we offer developers incentives in the form of tax rebates, fee waivers, and construction material rebates when they design and build with TOD guidelines. TOD encourages multi-mixed use development and enhances quality of life giving access to multiple transit opportunities (rail, bus, etc.) for commuters to live, work, and play. The goal is to reduce our carbon footprint, as well as make El Paso more attractive in retaining and attracting an educated and mobile workforce. This is important for our current residents, millennials and future community members. Studies show that this is part and parcel to a nation-wide vision for more sustainable cities. In El Paso, growing transit oriented development will positively impact the economy, stretch our local resources and improve quality of life for residents.

"The second agenda item establishes El Paso’s first ever Regional Renewable Energy Industry Advisory Board. This comes on the tails of Council’s rejection of El Paso Electric’s rate increase case, which is on its way to Austin for state level Public Utility Commission review. During the process it became evident that solar has been left out of our community dialogue with regard to policy making and solar industry development. Imagine that… in a place called the Sun City, where sun is king, our city still has a gap in how we think and what we do about solar power, not only as an energy efficient way of using power but also as a homegrown economic industry. It is 2015, solar has been around long enough to now become an affordable way of generating and using power, and this board will have the responsibility to explore and make recommendations to Council about how to think larger about this and other revolutionary industries."


You may also want to read Better Cities & Towns Freeway Free: A vision for the city.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Work at Archaeological Museum Raises Many Issues

I emailed Mr. Tracy Novak, Director of Parks and Recreation, Mrs.Tracey Jerome, Director of Museums and Cultural Affairs and Mr. Larry Nichols, Director of Planning. I simply asked whether anyone consulted with a hydrologist prior to beginning work at the Museum of Archaeology including the demolition of the gazebo and the bulldozing of the biocrust.

Response: It's been pretty quiet so far.

Now this: the city sent out a press release yesterday saying that the El Paso Museum of Archaeology and students from St. Mark's School are "working together to rehabilitate and repair the trail system around the museum as part of a community partnership." (Members of the archaeological community have been conveniently left out.) The students will work one Saturday of each month and "learn" prehistory while they are doing it.

As a result of severe weather and flooding the trails on the museum grounds have been closed for several years now. The Press Release states: "The city actively reached out to the community to find ways to improve the museum’s outdoor facilities." What it doesn't state is that members of the community reached out to city officials with some serious questions including why a hydrologist shouldn't be hired since the flood zone has changed and the design of the museum grounds is in conflict with the flood pattern.

In response to the city's press release, John Miller, a botanist and active Master Naturalist, asks:

"Can anyone point out to me a single thing which has been done towards the end of 'reopening the trails'?  Not a single thing accomplished to this point has contributed in any way towards any trail being reopened.

"The answer to re-opening the trails is not to be found in a volunteer workforce one Saturday a month; it will require ongoing attention from the City which has been sorely lacking to this point."

The problem, John, is that city officials believe that they are experts when they are anything but.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Parks and Recreation Plows through Another Arroyo

Photos above taken by Marilyn Guida on 12/7/15
at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology

Need to rent a bulldozer? Need to destroy yet another arroyo? Call Parks and Rec. Actually the last arroyo was Arroyo Park and it was EPWU that bulldozed outside of their right-of-way. However, Parks, which manages Arroyo Park, did not bother to contact the neighborhood association. Now they (Parks and Rec not EPWU) have plowed through another arroyo. This time at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology.

Maybe as early as last August, members of the archaeological community contacted Parks and recommended consulting with a hydrologist prior to doing any work to remediate the arroyo at the museum since it had suffered flood damage a year ago. 

It appears that they have just proceeded with their work without consulting any engineers or hydrologists. They removed the beloved gazebo in November.

I've been told that the flood plain changed from the southside to the northside of the museum. This occured when Trans Mountain was created in 1969 and has changed how water flows out of the Indidan Springs Canyon. The result has been the devastating flooding and a loss of life at Fairbanks and the need to constantly remove soil underneath Highway 54. Just something else for you and me to pay with our onerous property taxes.

I am no expert on the situation and will bring you more as I learn more. For now, if elpasonaturally were to hand out an environmental idiot award, Parks and Rec would be the top contender.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

As Predicted

Here is an email from Shelby Ruff the Co-Founder of Off Grid Hardware:

"City Council Voted NO [unanimously] against El Paso Electric’s proposed rate increases & attacks on solar homeowners.  A letter will be sent to the Utility CEO Today to make it official.

"Please continue to support your local non-profits that are paying for the lawyers to intervene on behalf of the citizens of El Paso so we can have a voice. Eco El Paso ( is a major voice in this case. EPEC may appeal the ruling to the PUC of Texas so we’re not done yet.  We need your support at Eco El Paso and every dollar and volunteer matters a great deal!

"We will keep you posted as the case continues with the Public Utility Commission of Texas and our lawyer will continue to battle on our behalf." 

Senator Rodríguez issued the following statement regarding El Paso City Council's unanimous vote to oppose El Paso Electric Company's proposed rate increases:

"The City Council did the right thing in deciding to contest El Paso Electric's rate proposal, which would raise rates for all residential customers by about 10 percent, and at least double that for customers with rooftop solar. This is particularly troubling because residential solar installation is rapidly growing in El Paso, providing relief to the grid and well-paying building trades jobs for community members. I look forward to the City vigorously advocating for all El Paso Electric customers as the rate case progresses."

Count on EPEC appealing the case to the PUCT. That has been there plan all along.

Got Your Goat

Photos by Sherri Bryant

Franklin Mountains State Park Superintendent, Cesar Mendez, tells us:

"Over the past two months we have received numerous calls and emails about the white goat seen roaming the side slopes of Trans Mountain Road in the area known as Smugglers Pass.  We are aware of the situation and through multiple observations and photographs, have confirmed that the animal in questions is in fact a domestic (now feral) goat, which could have escaped from a nearby farm or may have been intentionally released on the side of the road. We would like to ensure everyone that neither the goat, the public nor the state park are in any imminent harm or danger. The goat can survive in this area for quite a while and, if necessary, it will relocate on its own. Due to the feral state of the goat and the rugged conditions of the terrain, removing the goat from the area would be difficult and dangerous for both the animal and wildlife officials conducting the relocation."

He adds: "Based on these considerations, we will not be taking any action to actively capture, remove, or relocate the goat."

There are no wild goats in the Franklins. A few years ago, according to Dr. Mendez, two Barbary Sheep (Aoudad) were observed in the Franklins. They have not been seen in years and probably relocated.

Photo by Tony Thomas Photography in Lincoln, New Mexico, 2011

Aoudad are indigenous to Northern Africa. They were introduced to Texas and New Mexico as a game animal but have escaped the confines of game ranches and have thrived in the southwest ecosystems. In 2013 Elpasonaturally posted pictures of Barbary Sheep taken by Michael Romero  in the mountains around Alamogordo.

Monday, December 7, 2015

City Council Will Say No to EPEC Tomorrow

El Paso Electric and the Coming of the Solar Industry.
Image source:

Item 20.1 on tomorrow's City Council agenda calls for discussion and action on El Paso Electric Company's rate hike proposals. Council will overwhelmingly vote it down. EPEC expects Council's denial and has expected it all along. I quoted Jefferies the other day saying that EPEC would take the "long road to Austin." (They are depending on the PUCT to side with them.) That is why it is so important to donate to Eco El Paso so that they can continue to be an intervenor throughout the process.

Understand, it will be good for a large number of people to show up to Council tomorrow in opposition to the rate hike and the attempt to destroy small businesses and take away jobs from the rooftop solar industry. You can get all the facts about the case and about our energy future at Eco El Paso.

Just remember, EPEC is in this fight for the long haul. No dinosaur goes down without a fight except against an asteroid and then he goes down for good.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Friday Video: Tin Mine Video by Derek Spear

Derek Spear is the best. A visit to the Tin Mines is a must-do hike during each year's Celebration of Our Mountains. Derek's "Descent" takes a tour through the Old Tin Mines in the Franklin Mountains State Park. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

El Pasoans Oppose EPEC Rate Hike Proposal

When do solar users, Western Refinery, El Paso Association of Builders, environmentalists, a Roman Catholic priest, the City of El Paso and home owners come together? When El Paso Electric proposes ridiculous rate hikes and a new classification for solar users. That's when. 

You can read the El Paso Times story HERE.

El Paso Electric's CEO, Tom Shockley, who was compensated $1.99 Million in 2014, argued that rates for each class must be brought up to cost. Of course, that cost is based on outdated models and outdated methods of production. As Western Refinery pointed out, the cost of a kW is the cost of a kW. It is no different whether you or I buy it or a solar owner buys it or Western Refinery buys it. BTW, Western Refinery let it be known that they are now looking into ways to produce their own electricity. Why buy it from the private company that acts like a public utility and makes $90 Million or so per year and pays Shockley nearly $2 Million? One speaker referred to him as the "Sheriff of Nottingham" from the legend of Robin Hood.

Although EPEC ads and their flim-flam yesterday at City Council continues to purport that everyone is subsidizing solar, it is the other way around. Solar users add to the grid. I'll say that again. Solar users add to the grid. The number of solar users is growing and the job market (primary and so on) is growing with it as evidenced yesterday by nearly a half of Council chambers being taken by Solar City employees. 

Ray Adauto, the President of the El Paso Association of Builders, cited a report on national trends showing that, by 2018, one-half of home builders will be using solar voltaics and ground source heating. The trend is toward being more green with the expectation that, by 2020, 81% of American home builders will be green. In El Paso, Carefree Homes and Saratoga Homes have already begun installing solar panels on the homes that they build in El Paso.

In spite of all the opposition to El Paso Electric's rate hike proposals as demonstrated by 99% of those in attendance at yesterday's City Council meeting, EPEC may still have everyone on the ropes. Agreement with City Council is unlikely to be reached so the utility will litigate at the Public Utility Commission of Texas. A November 20, 2015 Jefferies stock report predicts:

"Since the 2012 Show Cause order City Council has four new members (out of eight), a new mayor and a new city manager. While some investors may recall the 2012 Show Cause proceeding, which coincided with Occupy El Paso, it seems from recent press reports that the current City Council may struggle to approve any rate request. Local press reports have emotions running high at the Council over municipal identification cards and a 25% raise to the new city manager. Also Representative Cortney Niland, who in 2012 spearheaded the Show Cause proceeding, narrowly won reelection in May 2015 which we believe will lessen her ability to steer any discussion on utility matters at the Council. Jefferies believes that the politics in El Paso may add to the uncertainty with the rate filing and believe the company will take the long road to Austin for a litigated decision."

The issue is whether smaller intervenors such as Eco El Paso can continue to afford an attorney. Check out and, if you can, please donate.

The peak of rhetoric came from Representative Peter Svarzbein in what must go down in the annals of El Paso history as the "Is It Fair" speech. To hear it, go to the city's video page > Special Council Meetings > 12/02/15. Advance to 1:08:07.

Mayor Leeser answered his rhetorical questions thus: "No it isn't," the Mayor said, "and that is why the City is intervening.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How to Talk to Climate Skeptics

With the Paris UN Climate Conference 2015 in full swing, let me give you a link to speak to climate deniers: How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming. It's a large amount of reading if you want to follow every link but it is great information. 

While you are at it, you should read Exxon And The Koch Family Have Powered The Climate-Denial Machine For Decades

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Stop El Paso Electric Limiting Our Ability to Go Solar

Senator Rodriguez's office issued this press release:

Stop EPE from limiting our ability to go solar

WHAT: Solar advocates and concerned Texans will rally in front of El Paso City Hall as they provide public comment in opposition of El Paso Electric (EPE) anti-solar proposal.  The special El Paso City Council meeting on December 2nd is being held in response to public pressure against EPE’s proposed rate increases and discriminatory tax on solar customers. The El Paso City Council will take public testimony beginning at 9 a.m. on December 2. The Council is expected to weigh in on the rate case at their December 8th meeting.

WHEN:  Wednesday, December 2nd
            Rally: 8:30 am
            Public Hearing: 9:00 am

WHERE:  El Paso City Hall
              300 N. Campbell St, El Paso, TX  79901

Background: EPE’s proposal will impede the ability of its customers to go solar and exercise energy choice. The high demand charges, part of three charges included in the proposal would undermine the investments of middle class Texas families, churches and schools that desire to control ever increasing utility charges.

Also be sure to check out for more information and to take action.

Destruction in Arroyo Park

Dr. Billy Rogers must be spinning in his grave. A big fading sign by the tennis club reads "Billy Rogers Nature Preserve". It was installed by the Friends of the Arroyo. Along Robinson is another sign which is the official park sign. It reads "Billy Rogers Nature Preserve".

Nature Preserve? Not according to Joel M. Ehler who is adding a big structure on the bottom of the arroyo below his Rim Road property. To do the construction, the contractor carved a road straight down the hillside. A city official told me that "the conservation overlay for the neighborhood does not regulate viewshed/arroyo side." The question remains why Ehler does not have the sense of civic duty to preserve the arroyo. How will he remediate?

Nature Preserve? Not according to the El Paso Parks and Recreation Department. Also not according to the EPWU before they were confronted by neighbors. Here's the story:

EPWU has a right-of-way in the arroyo to work on a water line which supplies Upper Rim. Not only did they plow through their rightaway, they plowed a new road inside of the park destroying plants, the biocrust and wildlife. Rim Road Neighborhood Association leaders, Bob Brannon and Richard Teschner, protested and demanded at a meeting with the head of engineering at EPWU, Alan Shubert, that the land be put back the way that it was. EPWU agreed and has hired Mike Gaglio to remediate. Of course it will take generations to restore the biocrust, but at least the road can be erased and new vegetation planted all at EPWU's expense. One wonders, however, whether EPWU would have done anything to remediate had the neighborhood association not acted.

The ultimate culprit seems to be the Parks and Recreation Department which never came to the Rim Road Association (or any other stakeholders) about any work inside of the park in spite of a park partnership agreement which had been renewed by former President Richard Teschner. Parks and Rec ignored that agreement. Dr. Teschner, who is now the President of the Neighborhood Coalition Council, said: "This whole affair shows just how important neighborhood associations are." 

EPWU has agreed to to remediate since being confronted. Parks and Rec was negligent by not informing and working with the neighborhood association with whom they have an agreement. 

Again, will the City of El Paso and far too many El Pasoans ever come to value nature preserves, open spaces and our living, breathing, natural Chihuahuan Desert? Will they ever really care?

Monday, November 30, 2015

TPWD Has No Idea

In my November 13th post, I said that Cemex has much more mountain to destroy at its quarry at McKelligon Canyon.

I wrote: "I asked Dr. Cesar Mendez, the Superintendent of the Franklin Mountains State Park, about the boundaries between the park and CEMEX and whether there had been any encroachment that he was aware of. He replied that he is concerned about 'any potential encroachment, as well as the changes in the landscape. But there is not much we can do if they are working legally and within their boundaries.'  He added that 'for now we are neighbors and respect each other.' He and his team keep their focus on protecting the land within the State Park as well as potential land that they might annex."

Dr. Mendez advised me to contact the open records division of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). I sent this request:

"Please provide me with any information describing the boundary between the Franklin Mountain State Park and the Cemex Quarry near McKelligon Canyon in El Paso, Texas. Digital files are preferred."

The response from TPWD Attorney, Laura Russell:

"According to our staff, the best available data currently is the El Paso City / County parcel data maintained by the Paso Del Norte Mapa, a coalition of local agencies.

This parcel data is the foundation of the data TPWD presently uses in our GIS to depict the boundary of Franklin Mountains SP.  Franklin Mountains SP does not have a boundary survey.  It is described in the 1987 deed by Sections included in the park."

I also asked about a boundary survey for Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park. Ms. Russell again responded:

"Mr. Tolbert, Wyler Aerial Tramway is totally contained within the boundaries of Franklin Mountains SP.  It does not share a common boundary with the CEMEX quarry.  Have a good day."

So on Tuesday of last week I emailed Ms. Russell and asked: "How does TPWD know that Cemex has not encroached on its boundaries already?"

No response from her to date. 

It appears that the TPWD has no idea whether Cemex has already encroached on their boundaries. At its last Executive Committee meeting the El Paso Group of the Sierra Club voted to begin a petition calling for such a survey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

O'Rourke to Lead Campaign for Preservation of Castner Range

Click on image to enlarge.

I just got this from the Director of Frontera Land Alliance, Janae' Reneaud-Field:

Important announcement from Congressman Beto O’Rourke: He will lead the campaign to make Castner Range a National Monument, preserving it forever! 

On Nov. 12 we met with Congressman Beto O’Rourke and five members of his senior staff at the El Paso Community Foundation’s “Foundation Room.” There, Beto announced that he himself will lead the campaign to make Castner Range a National Monument, thus preserving it forever!

And now we’ve got our marching orders: “Work harder than ever to conserve Castner Range!!!” Since Nov. 12 we’ve been collecting letters of support, with the goal to get 1,000 letters by January 6, 2016, 5,000 by April and 10,000 by September. We’re also seeking City of El Paso and El Paso County resolutions. We are setting up a Castner Range National Monument webpage, twitter, and Facebook site. Until the sites are up and running you can learn more about Castner Range by watching a 10-minute summary:

As all of you know, Castner Range occupies 11 square miles on the eastern slopes of El Paso’s Franklin Mountains, just east of the state park. The Range is in nearly pristine condition thanks to the stewardship of the US Army that owns the land, and the unexploded ordnance that possibly lies thereon. But commercial development of Castner has been a constant threat for decades and is still a threat today. 

Anyway, please send us your letter of support to designate Castner Range as a National Monument. Mail or email the letter to Janaé Reneaud Field, Frontera Land Alliance, 3800 N. Mesa St., Suite A2-258. El Paso, TX 79902. E-mail:

If you’d like to help in these efforts or if you want additional information, please call Janaé at 915-351-8352 or send her an e-mail.

One way to sign the letter is to visit Santa at the El Paso Zoo December 12-13. Go see Santa, the Meerkats, the other animals, and stop by the Frontera booth to sign the letter.

Below is the letter. Click on the title above it, then download and print. Please sign, print name, address, etc. underneath your signature. Send to Janae' at the address above and NOT the President.

Former Congressman Silvestre Reyes laid a foundation for the Castner preservation. He arranged for "a $300,000 grant to the Castner Conservation Conveyance Committee, which from early 2010 through September 2015 did a ton of background work (including two book-length publications and a ten-minute video) and truly prepared the way for O’Rourke’s current effort," according to CCCC member, Dr. Richard Teschner.

O'Rourke made the announcement that he would lead the preservation effort this past Saturday, November 21st, at a town hall meeting at Fire Station #5 in South Central El Paso.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Saudis Draining Billions of Gallons of Water from Arizona

Alfalfa Farm under irrigation, San Miquel, California
Picture by Ken Figlloll taken 7-22-12, Flickr creative commons
Nestle and other companies that bottle water continue to drain California of its precious water. (Think about what you are doing when you next buy a case or two of bottled water at the store.) But get this: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking billions of gallons of water from Arizona in the form of hay. Because they have drained their own wells, they can no longer raise alfalfa to produce hay to feed their dairy cattle so they bought land in Arizona with good wells. Read or listen to the NPR story, Saudi Hay Farm In Arizona Tests State's Supply Of Groundwater.

As we know in El Paso, alfalfa likes a long growing season that it can get in the desert southwest. Only problem with that is that alfalfa takes lots of water to grow. Long growing season, lots of water, lots of alfalfa, lots of hay. (My English teachers are now spinning in their graves - well, lots of them.)

Besides the fact that the Saudis can now drain our aquifers, it's the reaction by local Arizona farmers according to the NPR report which astounds me: 

"No one we talked to has issue with these corporations coming in and wanting to make money. And the fact that it's going to Saudi Arabia or China, the locals simply didn't care. But what they did care about is that their water tables are falling. So their domestic wells that they use for their homes are increasingly dropping, and at some point, they're going to lose access to water."

See the problem. They don't object to making money. Capitalism, of course, is the true religion. But they are worried about their water. In this case, making money = using up the water supply. 

It's the same here. Every farmer has a right to make money and plant whatever crop will be the most lucrative. So the aquifer is dropping, the water is getting more brackish, and so the PSB/EPWU must go searching for water to import in the not too distant future. (Some private companies are already doing it.) Yet we should never attempt to regulate what is grown and where. Capitalism is the true religion. 

I sure hope that the Saudis don't buy land here. With the private property laws of Texas and the right of capture rule, we won't have to worry about importing water. All of us will just move to the Pacific Northwest. (I love the Seahawks anyway.)

One last thought. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are exporting billions of gallons of water in the form of hay. How many Syrian refugees are they taking? Hmmm?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rodriguez Says "No" to El Paso Electric

Who will EPEC hurt? Not the rich but young, struggling families such as the Villalreals
The modest central El Paso home of Rick and Donna Villalreal and their little boy was the setting this morning for Senator José Rodriguez's press conference. The Senator was joined by board members of Eco El Paso, students, builders, solar installers and energy experts. All spoke out against the attempt by El Paso Electric Company to destroy the rooftop solar energy industry in El Paso as well as the onerous rate hikes on non-solar users.

Senator José Rodriguez addresses the press

One speaker, Blanca Gadney-Moss, said that she opposed the solar rate hikes because it would hurt her 88-year-old mother. 

Several salient points were made:

Solar is clean energy.
Solar reduces the use of our scarcest resource - water.
The rates will penalize the poorest El Pasoan.
Solar adds not subtracts to the electric grid.
Solar technology is 21st Century technology. El Paso Electric Company is operating on 20th Century technology and business model.
Most powerfully - solar is about jobs and not just for installers but for electricians, plumbers, roofers, construction workers and more.
In fact the solar industry nationwide employs more workers than the oil and gas industries combined.
With El Paso's unemployment rate going up, solar should be encouraged.
Students see the potential for jobs and careers in solar.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rodriguez Press Conference on Solar This Monday

Senator José Rodríguez, solar advocates 
to have news conference on EPE solar proposal

El Paso -  State Sen. José Rodríguez and advocates for solar – who includes consumers and homeowners, solar companies and employees, and others involved in economic development and renewable energy – will have a news conference to discuss a  proposal by El Paso Electric (EPE) that would create a new fee for customers who have solar panels installed on their homes as well as increase their rates by 24 percent. Rodríguez will be joined by multiple experts, customers, workers, and others with expertise or experience with solar energy at the home of an electric customer who has installed a solar device.

What: News Conference to discuss El Paso Electric's proposal on solar rates

When: 11 a.m. Monday (Nov. 23), 2015

Where: 3208 Tularosa, El Paso TX, 79903

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Friday Video: Derek Spear's "Inspired"

Derek Spear is great! Here's a compilation of some of his drone videos showing just how beautiful our El Paso home is.

Eco El Paso Says "Don't Get Shocked"

Eco El Paso announces “Don’t Get Shocked” Outreach 
Campaign Saying “No!”  to all rate Increases

El Paso, Texas – Eco El Paso and multiple community partners announced the launch of their “Don’t Get Shocked!” outreach campaign.  The outreach will focus on directly contacting 10,000 homeowners in high voter turnout precincts throughout the entire city and providing information about the detrimental effects the proposed rate increase could have on El Paso as well as motivating consumers to directly contact their city representative and express their concern. 

“Eco El Paso is working on behalf of the citizens of El Paso to keep rates reasonable for all rate classes and encouraging economic growth,” stated board president Fred Dalbin.  “The rate case is about keeping all energy generation and conservation technologies, such as solar, accessible for everyone.”

Outreach will initially focus on consumer contact and utilize volunteers to reach homeowners across the city.  In addition to volunteer efforts, Eco El Paso is working to develop and deliver paid outreach in the form of mail and broadcast television over the coming weeks. 

In August 2015 El Paso Electric Company (EPEC) filed Rate Case #44941, which raises electric rates by 16.45%, proposes higher demand rates that will impact the vast majority of El Pasoans and increases rates for rooftop solar owners by over 36%. Eco El Paso has filed as an intervener in this case arguing that the creation of a separate rate for solar owners is discriminatory and regressive and without reasonable justification. Being an intervener requires EEP to engage an attorney in Austin, where the case will be heard and voted on by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC). We are telling the community and PUC not to let El Paso Electric raise ANY of our electric rates.

Eco El Paso is a non-profit organization that promotes eco‐sensitive and energy efficient community planning, building design, construction and facility maintenance in El Paso’s region to professionals in the design, construction and building maintenance industry. It provides educational training seminars and presentations from experts in the various trades for residential, commercial and institutional projects.  Go to for more information.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rodriguez Opposed to EPEC's Attempt to Destroy Solar

[Below is a press release from Senator Rodriguez's office issued earlier today. I have been told to expect more details about "a news conference Monday where multiple experts, customers, workers and others with expertise or experience with solar energy will be available to discuss the issue further."]

Sen. Rodríguez: Solar energy benefits El Paso, EPE proposal does not

El Paso - State Sen. José Rodríguez today announced his opposition to a proposal by El Paso Electric (EPE) that would create a new fee for customers who have solar panels installed on their homes as well as increase their rates by 24 percent. He urged the El Paso City Council to reject the proposal. [See attached letter.]

"I have long been an advocate for advancing public policy that incentivizes the growth of renewable sources of energy in Texas, including solar. To that end, I passed legislation in 2011 (S.B. 1910) that established solar net metering in EPE's Texas service area," Rodríguez said. "Consistent with that history, I cannot now remain silent when the utility's current proposal may well undo the deliberate progress El Paso has made in truly realizing its potential as the 'Sun City,' a leader in solar energy for the rest of Texas."

Solar energy is a growing field in El Paso, with nearly 300 customers added since August alone, bringing the number of households with rooftop power generation to nearly 800. Additionally, some builders in the area have begun to add solar panels as standard equipment on new affordable housing. This helps reduce a homeowner's electric bill while also reducing the power load on the grid, which benefits everyone. It also promotes economic development with high-paying jobs.

The Senator outlined his opposition to the proposed increase in a letter to City Council; the Council will review EPE's proposal targeting solar customers in early December. The proposal is part of a rate case in which the company seeks to raise overall residential rates by about 12 percent. It is based on the assertion that customers with rooftop solar energy generation burden the power grid because they require service from EPE during times when the sun is not as strong—in winter, or on cloudy days, for example. However, rooftop solar customers also lessen demand on the grid because they produce energy during the hottest times of year—in the summer, when the sun is shining during periods of peak demand.

"To be clear, I would not oppose charging solar customers in a different manner, provided that manner fairly and accurately accounted for a customer's actual cost to EPE while also taking into account the value these customers add," Rodríguez said. "However, at present, I do not think it's appropriate to apply a steep demand charge, usually reserved for commercial actors, to a neighborhood home. This effectively punishes that customer for choosing to invest in solar." 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Senator Rodriguez to Oppose EPEC Rate Hike Proposal

Word on the street is that State Senator José Rodriguez will hold a press conference this coming Monday, November 23rd. He will be speaking out against the rate hike proposals by El Paso Electric. He has apparently chosen the home of a young Hispanic family as the venue for his conference. The family installed a solar panel and the EPEC hike will hammer them. 

El Paso Electric has been falsely claiming in their advertisements that solar users are taking money from all the rest of us and especially from lower-income rate payers. The truth is that solar customers help all customers in the system and EPEC customers shouldn't have to pay for EPEC's outdated business model that builds and minimally uses power generators but still wants everyone to pay more for these dinosaurs. Senator Rodriguez's choice for a venue will demonstrate that it isn't solar users hurting struggling rate payers. No. It is EPEC that is hurting them.

Eco El Paso, which has intervened in the rate case, makes these points:

  • Solar energy is either immediately used by the homeowner or El Paso Electric immediately sells it to its other ratepayers. 
  • Solar homeowners pay full retail price for the energy received from the grid and pay all fees and taxes just like every other homeowner.  Solar is just an efficient appliance that saves money just like an energy efficient refrigerator or AC unit.
  • Electricity from solar homeowners reduces Transmission & Distribution costs on the Utility.  
  • Solar creates clean solar energy and reduces pollution and fossil fuel dependence.
  • Solar reduces peak demand and is as cost effective as natural gas. 
  • The Sun City has some of the best solar radiation in the country that we can harvest to create jobs and clean energy. 
  • Solar saves ratepayers money! 
  • Solar creates jobs and economic development! 
  • Solar subsidizes the utility!

Visit for more information.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Suggestions for Managing Drought from Israel

Read Seth M. Siegel's Daily Beast story: Israel's Drought Lessons for California. There may be good advice here for us in the El Paso Desert Southwest. Here's a list of his suggestions:

  1. Ban flood irrigation
  2. Provide tax incentives to purchase drip irrigation equipment
  3. Re-use highly treated wastewater
  4. Have desalination plants ready for drought
  5. Use special (non-GMO) seeds that thrives on useless brackish water
  6. Require dual flush toilets everywhere toilets are installed
  7. Add conservation to school curriculum
  8. Centralize control of water
  9. Preserve aquifers
  10. Fix infrastructure

Thanks to the EPWU, we already have desal and we are reusing highly treated wastewater. TecH2O continues to be an outstanding learning center for young and old concerining conservation.

In a sense the State of Texas has centralized (or coordinated) planning (if not control) of water. 

Preserving aquifers (especially cutting down on the loss of water by evaporation) is a matter for the El Paso County Water Improvement District.

Texas A&M Research Center is working on the issue of salinity and plant growth.

All of this sounds good. The question is how much are we doing and how well. Stay tuned.

Siegel is the author of Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution to a Water-Starved World.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Water Levels at Elephant Butte Down to Nine Percent Capacity

Click on image to enlarge.

Read John Fleck's blog post from yesterday: The great emptiness of Elephant Butte Reservoir.

Now read David Crowder's El Paso Inc. story: EPWU wants higher water, stormwater rates: Customers to see 11-percent increases from both.

Any questions?

Chihuahuan Desert and Value of Our BioCrust

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Aquistbe of Biocrust at Courthouse Wash, Arches National Park 

[Below is an op-ed piece published in yesterday's El Paso Times written by Janae' Renaud Field, Executive Director of Frontera Land Alliance. Elpasonaturally has discussed the importance and delicacy of biocrusts before when posting about the environmental devastation caused by fracking.]

Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) is one reason The Frontera Land Alliance is building a natural trail at the Wakeem/Teschner Nature Preserve at Resler Canyon. We are working to reduce the footprints in the canyon, keep the impact of people to designated areas for better water conservation and erosion control. 

What is biocrust?  It is a thin veneer of microorganisms that inhabit and bind the soil to a depth of from a few millimeters to a few centimeters from the surface.  Unknown to most people it is often thought to have little value, but that is far from the truth. Biocrusts generally cover all soil spaces not occupied by green plants.  They are key to reducing erosion, increasing water retention, and increasing soil fertility. In most arid regions, these crusts are dominated by cyanobacteria (previously called blue-green algae), which are one of the oldest known life forms.  Drylands are one of the more important ecosystems in the world, comprising fully 40 percent of the Earth’s land surface. 
The biocrust allows more complex organisms like mosses and lichens to grow — and when it’s all assembled, the biocrust then holds the soil in place and prevents dust storms and erosion. 
A desert landscape is highly vulnerable to destruction. And if the biocrust is disturbed enough, then not only are dust storms more likely to blow up the loose sand, but there will be less storing of carbon and the ecosystem may be reduced to what researchers call an early successional state where the site is unstable. Recovery of a disturbed area may take up to 250 years in places of lower rainfall like our desert region, assuming the area is not again disturbed.

The organisms in crusts protect soil from erosion in a variety of ways. Some organisms, such as cyanobacteria and microfungi, protect themselves from sharp sand grains by secreting sticky mucilage around their cells. These microbes move through the soil when moistened, leaving the mucilage behind as a trail. These mucilage trails glue soil particles in place. Mosses and lichens cover and protect the soil surface as they grow in place, but they also have small root-like anchoring structures that penetrate into the soil surface. Soil loss due to rainfall and water movement is increased when cyanobacterial connections are broken. This is particularly problematic when the impact is in a continuous strip, such as a vehicle or bicycle track, because channels for water flow are quickly formed, especially on slopes.

Destruction of biocrusts dramatically alters biogeochemical processes, hydrology, surface energy balance, and vegetation cover.  The USGS states that soil crusts are important in the absorption of rainfall. This function is especially important in arid areas that experience sporadic, heavy rainfall. When it rains, the organisms and their mucilage absorb up to ten times their volume in water and then release the water slowly into the soil once the rain ends. 

To reduce disturbance of the biocrust, stay in areas designated for use such as existing tent pads camping sites whenever possible. Otherwise set up camp in areas where living crusts do not form, such as slickrock, sandy beaches, or under groves of trees. 

At Resler Canyon stay on existing roads and the education trial which will be coming soon.   Through your care and stewardship we can ensure that the Wakeem/Teschner Nature Preserve remains a healthy natural area in which to enjoy and learn about the wonders of nature.

To learn more about Resler Canyon or how you can help contact