Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: Green Roofs?

Tempe Transportation Center
Just after I posted on Monday that white roofs really do work, Marshall Carter-Tripp sent me two links to news articles about "green roofs". Googling I quickly learned that there is a as well as a, the latter I just began following on Twitter.

Ecosystem Gardening touts these benefits:

  1. They last up to twice as long as traditional roofs
  2. They slow the progression of rain into the stormwater system
  3. They mitigate urban heat island effects
  4. They provide an insulating layer to buildings, keeping them warmer in winter and cooler in summer, which decreases costs related to heating and cooling
  5. The vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen
  6. They create habitats for wildlife
Of course, I'm concerned about the effectiveness of a green roof in our desert environment and the issue of water conservation. has this to day:

In desert communities, greenroofs can greatly enhance the residents' life quality due to their benefits:

  1. greenroofs provide thermal insulation, so as to reduce cooling loads (and avoid a few of the downsides of heavy AC use, like Legionnaire's disease and thermophilic actinomycetes)
  2. greenroofs provide acoustic insulation,
  3. greenroofs reduce heat island effect,
  4. greenroofs create wildlife habitat,
  5. greenroofs absorb occurring rain water, saving drains from intermittent overloading,
  6. greenroofs clean ambient air by absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen,
  7. greenroofs increase the roof lifespan.
Scientific American writer, Katie Moisse, puts forth in Over the Top: Data Show "Green" Roofs Could Cool Urban Heat Islands and Boost Water Conservation that a green roof is no more expensive than a white roof and conserves water at the same time.

I'm skeptical. Green roofs must take more work. I paint my roof white and I'm done. I have a green roof and I have another garden. (There are examples of green on a sloped roof and not just flat or stepped roofs.) I could use water from my evaporative cooler to water the garden. But how much trouble will it be?

There are examples of public places such as overpasses that function as neighborhood gardens. There are even studies such as those at ASU in Tempe, Arizona that are studying the viability and effectiveness of green roofs in our climate. The most ambitious is the Tempe Transportation Center Roof. The Water Resources Research Center of the University of Arizona discussed that Center's roof and touts similar benefits to those mentioned above. By the way the Tempe Transportation Center has an LEED platinum rating.

Certainly green roofs have a place in the built environment. Retrofitting a house may be too expensive BUT designing new homes to have green roofs is a real possiblility.

This is a subject to be re-visited for sure.

COMING SOON: elpasopolitcally

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Houston Solar Industry Isn't So Sunny

To be an electric consumer in Houston can be daunting. Just take a look at this chart comparing electric companies in the Space City. The good news is that, because of the deregulated market in Houston, rates are less than other Texas cities. The bad news is that there is no incentive for solar and so solar energy in Houston is more expensive than other Texas cities.

Austin and San Antonio have publicly owned utilities and can, therefore, set goals for solar energy. In Houston solar power lags far behind other Texas cities, Ryan Holeywell writes: "Austin Energy, for example, offers a solar rebate program that pays customers $1,250 per kilowatt of solar capacity they install. It also has a financing program that can offer loans for solar infrastructure of up to $20,000, according to the report. CPS Energy in San Antonio has a solar rebate program too, with extra funding for customers who use local solar installers."

In the long run, photovoltaic solar energy will be the most cost effective alternative for consumers. You pay for the equipment but, from that point onward, you don't pay for the electricity. You also shouldn't have to pay a utility for increasingly antiquated power stations run by natural gas produced by hydrofracking, a process which consumes billions of gallons of water, threatens ground-water supplies, and creates environmental havoc above ground. Those same power plants use billions of gallons of water both for running the turbines and then for keeping the plant cool. 

It is unfortunate that El Paso Electric Company has chosen to try to crush the solar industry with all of its jobs and local entrepreneurs. Eco El Paso has become an Intervenor in the EPEC rate hike case before the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC). Through Public Citizen they have an action petition online that sends your opposition note to the Mayor and City Council. HERE is the link. There is also a separate petition about the rate hike nonsense HERE. Links to both may be found in the right hand column of this blog.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: White Roofs Really Do Work

White roof with solar panels - EPEC's Schockley's and Kipp's nightmare.
Painting your roof white really does work and here are three advantages according to Steve Hargreaves, s staff writer:

  • "It keeps buildings cooler, reducing the amount of energy required for air conditioning.
  • It reduces the so-call "heat island" effect, the heating up of entire urban areas which then causes other buildings in the vicinity to heat up, whether they are in direct contact with the sun or not.
  • A white roof or road will actually reflect the sun's rays back into space, keeping the atmosphere cooler."
Hargreaves is writing about a proposal by Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read White roofs to fight global warming

I first posted about this subject HERE. More and more I hear success stories. Just don't tell El Paso Electric Company. They may want to put white roof owners in a separate and much higher rate category. After all, with a white roof you won't be "contributing" nearly as much as your neighbors to EPEC's dinosaurian power plants.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Watch Sunday's Total Lunar Eclipse

The Friday Video: July 10, 2015 Flash Flood in Northwest El Paso

Judy Ackerman told me that the video shows a "graphic example of why NOT to build on our mountains." The entire 14 minutes is a jawdropper especially the last exciting 2 or 3 minutes. The footage was taken in the 6200 block of Franklin Dove in northwest El Paso. BTW, if you receive elpasonaturally by email, you won't see the video above. Go to to view it.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

San Antonio's Energy Utility Offers Unique Solar Program

Image from SolarHostSA
"What does it mean to be a solar host? Much like private ownership of solar systems, a homeowner or business would “host” a solar system on their roof. The difference with SolarHosting is that the homeowner or business owner, YOU, would not pay anything at all to have the system installed and maintained.

"This means that you don’t have to afford solar in order to see the benefits of the solar generation. It also means that as a CPS Energy customer, you would be doing your part to help the community meet our Renewable Energy Goals. That means that CPS Energy won’t have to build another traditional power plant. Instead, your rooftop along with all of the other hosts’ will be the power plant. Pretty cool right!?"

Pretty cool indeed. It's a program in San Antonio called SolarHostSA. SolarHostSA is a pilot project launched by PowerFin Partners and CPS Energy, the nation's largest municipally owned energy utility. It "will allow participants to host PV systems on their rooftops in exchange for credits on their energy bill." Read more from PV Magazine HERE.

Obviously San Antonio's utility gets it. They won't have to build more traditional power plants because rooftop solar will be the power plants. To be sure home and business owners will not own the panels - they will, as the program says, host the panels. I sure would have liked to have been the sales person at PowerFin who worked out this deal.

I don't want to praise CPS too much. It was only yesterday that they admitted to a large crowd of angry people that they had overcharged them with smart meters. Nevertheless they are finding innovative ways to produce and save energy at low customer rates. One of their more innovative products (and this should be a no-brainer even for Shockley and Kipp) are electric vehicle charging stations. 

El Paso is probably stuck with EPEC for the foreseeable future. After all, the City can't just take over the utility à la People's or Banana Republic style. You can also imagine what would happen if, in some improbable fashion, the City managed to purchase EPEC. Imagine how much your property taxes would skyrocket then. Larry Romero could pave all sorts of streets for his cronies. It just would be good to see EPEC adopt a business plan that incentivized solar and found more products to sell and make their shareholders happy - and their customers too.

To be sure, CPS Energy is also trying to maintain control of solar energy by using homes and businesses as production stations. Besides SolarHostSA there is another program for those without photovoltaic panels to buy "shares" in a solar farm and receive credit on their bills. The more shares owned, the more credit. CPS's solar programs will mean lower rates for customers.

I may be wrong, but I'm sure that SolarHostSA users will not be able to save the electricity they produce with batteries. CPS is not wanting people to get off their grid. Still it must be conceded that, in time, all utilities to one degree or another will either be obsolete or redundant. Bettter home energy storage technology is on its way. And one day the pricing will be quite affordable. 

Next let's look at Houston where the electrical customer can choose among different power companies and see how those companies promote alternative energy especially photovoltaics.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For-Profit El Paso Electric Company Is Bad for El Paso

You can see this sign in Bisbee, Arizona but not in El Paso, Texas
Besides the obvious that El Paso Electric Company is joining with utilities around the country, the Koch Boys and ALEC to crush the rooftop photovoltaic industry, why else will you not see the sign above in El Paso for the foreseeable future.

Bisbee, a town of between 5,000 and 6,000 souls, a once-thriving turquoise and copper mining town and the place today for a great blues festival, is also part of an electrical cooperative, the Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative. "Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative is a non-profit, member-owned distribution cooperative providing electricity to more than 51,000 services over some 4,100 miles of energized line. Located in southeastern Arizona, the cooperative’s service territory covers parts of Cochise, Graham, Pima and Santa Cruz Counties and includes the communities of Sierra Vista, Huachuca City, Patagonia, Elfrida, Benson, St. David, Bowie, San Simon, Willcox, Sonoita and Pearce-Sunsites."

SSVEC offers a member discount card that can be used at local stores and services. They have energy efficiency programs and programs for youth. They also have a renewable energy program which offers incentives to reward the use of solar energy. 

SSVEC is a non-profit co-op. EPEC is a for-profit organization. EPEC is there to benefit the shareholders not the ratepayers. Nothing wrong with that except that they use their power (pardon the pun) to quash innovation and protect their financial interests. EPEC does not serve the interests of El Paso and cannot as a for-profit corporation.

I believe that it was Ann Lilly who, a few years ago, actually proposed that El Paso have a municipal utility. Hmmm?

Tomorrow, we'll look at CPS Energy of San Antonio.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Joe Biden Speaks Out for Solar

["On September 16, 2015 U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Solar Power International trade show in Las Vegas. He is the most senior government official to speak at a solar trade show to date." This video is well worth watching the entire 35 minutes. If you receive elpasonaturally by email, the embedded video will not show. Go to to view.]

Friday, September 18, 2015

11th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta Saturday, September 19th, 9 AM to 3 PM

The 11th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta kicks off tomorrow at 9 AM and ends at 3 PM. It is held at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park. The event is sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife with help from volunteers from the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition. Many think of it as the start of Celebration of Our Mountains.

For a full schedule, visit Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition.

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Svarzbein Is Making My Days

Rep. Peter Svarzbein (Photo by Rudy Guttierez, El Paso Times)

Rep. Peter Svarzbein with Senator Rodriguez District Director, Sito Negron (Photo by Rudy Gutierrez, El Paso Times)
I didn't endorse Peter but he is beginning to surprise me in wonderful ways. I'm still concerned about a PAC that hasn't been closed and, of course, I wasn't happy about the vote on the downtown historical survey. I did think that Peter wasn't sure about all of the ramifications of that vote. He seemed to be following his heart when he should have just stuck to a campaign promise. I also think that he needs to be more judicious when it comes to promising someone a nomination and then giving it to someone else.

All water under the bridge.

In the endorsement post I stated that Peter isn't green. I was wrong. He is proving to be a real proponent of progressive, green initiatives. On the newly inaugurated bike share program, there was Peter. (Read the Herald-Post story online about the program. You will especially like their really cool map.)

Peter wants to do more for our trailheads which is about time. Peter told me that he sees trailheads as a way to make El Paso unique and to stand out. Improvements at trailheads don't need to be lavish. (Most of us don't want them to be.) Peter likes the idea of a bench, some parking spaces, a sign and a simple solar panel. [Note to Peter: think trees. Work with the West Texas Urban Forestry Council that supplied trees for the Lost Dog Trail.] His pick to the Open Space Advisory Board, Rick Bonart, was the principal architect of the Lost Dog Trail - a true representation of what our trailheads can and should be. I might add that the Lost Dog is the only trailhead with inviting amenities. No matter how much money was spent on the Palisades and how many charettes people have attended over the years, zilch, zero, nada has been done at the Palisades except for a sign and the City's refusal to travel up a perfectly adequate road to remove graffiti. 

Peter recognizes that open space preservation will encourage infill development. He argues that the construction of the trolley will encourage more attractive development along the route.

I was wrong. Peter is green. He recognizes the need for smarter development. 

Oh - and that bike share program - I sincerely hope that David K is wrong about his prediction. Scott White, the head of Velo El Paso and a strong proponent for more biking, bike lanes and public transportation, says that we should think the best of El Paso and not expect the worst. "We are the City with the lowest crime rate," he told me.

When I ran for District 2, I frequently expressed that what kept me inspired was the energy and creativity of the younger people who we need to keep and encourage. El Paso needs people such as Peter and Scott.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Give One to Chuy Reyes

Earlier I posted that the El Paso Water Improvement District (EPWID) was at it again. They were mowing grass along the Franklin Canal at the El Paso Zoo. I asked some wildlife and horticulture experts and discovered three things. First, it's not nesting season so legally the mowing is allowed even though other wildlife uses the drain. 

Secondly, I was also told that mowing keeps the vegetation low and somewhat manageable. Not mowing would mean unmanageable vegetation, which can leave a breeding ground for different animals and insects, some good some not. The grasses do help to hold the canal bank together.

Mr. Reyes, the Manager of EPWID, stated that "the mowing is part of the maintenance of our property, we have to keep the vegetation down so that our vehicles can patrol the canal banks." The water district is responsible for the maintenance, operation and upkeep of 400 miles of canals and 350 miles of drains from the New Mexico State borderline to the Hudspeth County line. Reyes said: "Simply we patrol to make sure water flow is not blocked and could cause over topping and flooding and we deliver irrigation water to some 32,000 accounts from small gardens to large farms and to the City of El Paso for treatment and utilized for potable water."

All of this sounds reasonable. The fight that we picked in the past had to do with the destruction of habitat and nests. The vegetation in that case did not impede patrolling and, in fact, served to shade the water and thus cut down on evaporation. 

As far as the canal at the Zoo, it is probably a moot point about mowing anyway. The Zoo has plans to concrete that section and build over the canal to create more area for their educational programs. After I emailed Reyes and expressed my concern about mowing the riparian area, he responded: "Sorry for your concern about the riparian zone but we are in the process of working out an agreement with the El Paso Zoo where they want to concrete that area of the canal so there won’t be any riparian to worry about."

And that's the third thing that I learned. It's true that Reyes is reasonable. However, when he says "there won't be any riparian to worry about" because the Zoo will concrete the area, there is a values difference at play. I'm not criticizing Reyes. I am, however, observing once again a common value in El Paso that makes environmentalism and conservation so difficult: we don't have to worry about nature as long as we can build over it, plow it down, build on top of it, etc. There is no attempt to live in community with nature in spite of the fact that architects and landscapers throughout the world are finding better ways.

It makes sense to mow. It also makes sense to blend in and preserve.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

EPEC compromises safety of residents with 13,800 volt feeder line

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We already know that the El Paso Electric Company refused to compromise with the Manhattan Heights Neighborhood Association and neighboring areas regarding the installation of a 13,800 volt feeder line along Elm Street. EPEC also refused to deal with the El Paso Historic Landmark Commission. Installation is now almost complete. 

It has been pointed out that the feeder line is dangerous because of powerful stormwater flows down Elm Street that erode surface and subsurface infrastructure. There is another danger from installing these feeder lines along residential routes. The video above demonstrates that danger.

Just how close are the Elm Street lines to homes? Take a look at these pictures:

Noting the intransigence of EPEC, one resident remarked: "our only resort will be to pray to God that we don't hear the sounds of sirens along Elm Street arriving to recover the charred remains of a resident or child who just wanted to play with her kite or birthday balloon."

And EPEC wants rate increases for all of us?! Remember, they use our money to build power facilities so that they can sell electricity to other utilities. Ratepayers not shareholders pay and they profit.

Take action and send a message to the Mayor and City Council:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dr. Richard Teschner Receives Star on the Mountain Award

Dr. Richard Teschner, recipient of the Star on the Mountain Award
At today's El Paso City Council meeting, the Mayor and Council presented the Star on the Mountain Award to Dr. Richard V. Teschner. The inscription reads:

Star on the Mountain Award
Presented to
Dr. Richard Teschner
The City of El Paso applauds your advocacy and
commitment to build the Franklin Mountains
State Park Headquarters and Visitor Center.
Your contributions and generosity continue to improve
the quality of life for the El Paso community.
Mayor Oscar Leeser - September 15, 2015

Charlie Wakeem and Richard Teschner at Resler Canyon
Dr. Teschner, Professor-Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Texas at El Paso, has been a preeminent figure in the conservation community. Because of his generosity and the efforts of fellow preservationist, Charlie Wakeem, a beautiful arroyo known as Resler Canyon was preserved in 2005. He is a current member of the Open Space Advisory Board, President of the Friends of the Rio Bosque, a member and past chair of State Senator Rodriguez's Environmental Commitee and a Legacy member of the Nature Conservancy. Recipient of other environmental awards, he is also a Rim Road neighborhood leader and the newly elected President of the El Paso Neighborhood Coalition.

Dr. Teschner advocating for the preservation of Castner Range
Probably his biggest quest is still to be realized: the preservation of Castner Range for which Dr. Teschner has made multiple trips to Washington D.C., spent hours on a conservation committee, given public talks and pursued avidly for years.

To say that he is an extraordinary conservationist is quite the understatement. Congratulations, Dr. Teschner.

Solar Customers Subsidize El Paso Electric Company

Future of El Paso Electric
Taking a page from the Koch brothers and groups such as ALEC, El Paso Electric claims that solar users are "free loaders" or "free riders" subsidized by themselves while relying on non-solar users to expand and maintain the grid. 

The free loader is El Paso Electric Company.

Basic Points On How Solar Saves The Utility Money:

  1. Solar users sell electricity back to the utility at 2.5 cents and El Paso Electric Company (EPEC) resells it to their neighbors for 10+ cents. 
  2. Solar reduces transmission and distribution costs on the grid.
  3. It reduces wear and tear on other equipment on the grid such as transformers, etc. 
  4. It reduces man hours and other equipment costs to repair the grid.
  5. Solar is produced and used onsite: no carbon, no water, no use of the grid when consuming 100% of solar. Therefore solar users are not adding wear and tear to the grid which saves the utility money. 
  6. Solar uses no water. How much water does it take to frack a gas well? How much water is used at each gas plant across our city to produce electricity?  We are in the desert!  Water matters and solar saves water!
  7. Environmental savings include clean air and clean, more abundant water. 
  8. Solar creates JOBS. Solar is the 21st century solution to energy independence. Solar creates commerce, which puts more meters on EPEC’s grid which is a good thing for them too! Solar will create more jobs, more students, more meters, and more revenue for the city.  We could become a hub for new manufacturing jobs such as Solar Plants, Inverter Plants, Racking Plants, etc. 
  9. Solar helps reduce peak loads especially with western-facing solar energy systems. El Pasoans should be asking for a large rebate for any western-facing rooftops which would reduce load significantly from 3 PM to 7 PM every day of the year.  There is already a case study on this in Austin, Texas at the old Mueller Airport. It's called the Pecan Street Project.  Look up the solar neighborhood, they received larger rebates for western roofs, offset over 1MW of residential solar during peak and saves the city millions over 25 years. If we all did this across the city, we could reduce load.  Utility batteries are also a huge solution to peak load that would reduce our overall utility costs as well as reduce the rates for everyone. 
  10. Geothermal heat pumps on all AC units city wide could be a new rebate program!  This would encourage more job growth and reduce peak loads all summer long during the heaviest peak month. This would reduce the need for some of our current power plants and would reduce yearly peak. 
  11. Home battery backup systems could also be setup to shave every home’s peak demand from 3 PM to 7 PM year round.  This could cut peak to 250,000 homes in El Paso alone.  Peak doesn’t seem so scary now and seems much easier to solve, but they want 50-year power plants with 10% guaranteed rates of return from rate payers.  El Pasoans must get them to shut down plants and not keep building!  We need solar and wind farms, geothermal rebates, energy efficiency rebates, etc. These will create jobs, grow the city, and grow the utility's revenue long term. 
  12. Answers exist, but EPEC ignores them instead of innovating and expanding beyond antiquated business model ideas.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Why Is EPEC So Afraid of Solar?

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
It seems that the El Paso Electric Company is afraid of the solar industry. They seem afraid of your having solar panels on your home and producing your own clean energy. If you buy electricity from them even if it is generated by photovoltaic panels, that's okay. Just don't produce your own, thank you very much. Why?

Of course it cuts into their profits. It's not just solar users, it's most of us. Over the last five or so years, demand for electricity has been down in El Paso. Solar is a very small part of reducing that demand. More efficient appliances and energy efficient homes have reduced demand. Yet, EPEC wants all of us - not just solar users - to pay higher fees to help them build more production facilities. Why? Again, demand is down. 

First, know that EPEC sells energy that it doesn't use back to the grid where other utilities can buy it. They make money on excess electricity. We are all subsidizing EPEC by financing their capital improvements. They improve, sell to the grid and get you to pay for all of it. Over five years they have made just about a half billion dollars in El Paso. How much has gone back to our community? A thousand buck pop for this thing or that thing. Good PR only.

Second, EPEC's rate hike on solar is really part of a nationwide cabal by the oil and gas industry and the electrical utilities to stop solar - to take away your right to buy a different product. They and their cronies talk free markets, but the unspoken disclaimer is that the market is free as long as it only belongs to them.

The Koch brothers and big utilities campaign to unplug solar power is the title of a David Horsey piece for the Los Angeles Times last year. About the tea party darlings, Horsey writes: "Consumer choice. Business competition. Autonomy for individual Americans. Those certainly seem like sound conservative principles. You would think that is something the Koch brothers could appreciate, but, obviously, their brand of conservatism is defined less by principles than by profits." Note to readers: the Kochs aren't really conservatives. They are oligarchs. As the article mentions, real conservatives like Barry Goldwater, Jr. (Yes, Barry's boy and a good man. I've met him.) Barry Jr. is for consumer choice.

Even the Walmart Waltons have joined the effort to stop you from having solar panels on your home. Certainly Walmart isn't a utility or a natural gas or coal producer. But they are 30% owners of First Solar, a company that makes solar arrays for utility companies. First Solar and the good ol' Waltons don't want you making your own energy. They want you to buy electricity from utilities. That is why the Walmart heirs "have given $4.5 million dollars to groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans for Prosperity—groups that are attacking renewable energy policies at the state level and, specifically, pushing for fees on rooftop solar installations." Read more HERE.

Remarkably the Walmart is the largest corporate user of solar panels. In Walmart Is the Biggest Corporate Solar User. Why Are Its Owners Funding Groups That Oppose Solar?Tim McDonnell states:"Walmart loves solar power—as long as it's on their roof, and not yours." Tim's article also has a long list of the groups Walmart supports. All these groups in one way or another are fighting clean energy.

EPEC wants you to pay for their production so that they can sell the excess energy to other utilities. They don't want you to use solar and will dissuade you from doing so not because of what they are saying in their PR hype, but because they are part of a nationwide effort to destroy the solar industry so they and they alone sell you electricity. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Say NO to unfair solar fees

There is a new "take action" page published by Public Citizen. It is a means of making the current petition more focused specifically on El Paso Electric Company's unfair rate increases for solar panel users. 

What is especially great about the Public Citizen's form is that your message will go directly to the Mayor and each of the City Council representatives. When I created the petition for Eco El Paso I mistakenly had the emails directed to the Municipal Clerk's office. Kaiba White of Public Citizen called that office and discovered that they do not forward messages to the Mayor or Council. I was wrong. Since her discovery, I have changed the recipient of the petition to the Mayor. However, on there can only be one email recipient. 

I apologize for having your petition going to an office that cannot deliver email to Mayor or Council. However, I have made an open records request for all those emails so that your voice can still be heard by members of City Council. I will see to that.

The petition is a chance to say NO to all the proposed rate hikes. Public Citizen's "take action" item targets specifically the unfair rate hikes proposed for just solar panel users.

If you have signed the petition, please also fill out the "take action" form. You can find a link to it at at the very top of the right hand blue column. If you haven't signed the petition or done the action form, please take a moment to complete both. The petition is right below the "take action" button. 

Please share this blog post with everyone you know here in El Paso. Say NO to the onerous rate hikes and say NO to the unfair solar fees.

Say NO to Unfair Solar Fees

Say NO to El Paso Electric

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Water District At It Again

The El Paso Water Improvement District #1 (EPWID) is at it again. They are currently mowing the vegetation along the Franklin Canal by the El Paso Zoo. You will recall that they plowed through vegetation in the riparian zones of drains in El Paso's Upper Valley. This was during nesting season for birds and mammals. As a result the El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) wrote a new policy to be more mindful of animal habitats. EPWU responded to the concerns of environmentalists. When asked about mitigating the loss of vegetation in the Upper Valley, Mr. Jesus (Chuy) Reyes only had this to say: “I am not interested in replanting native vegetation.” 

elpasonaturally has reached out to Mr. Reyes and is asking him about the benefit of mowing along the canals.

More later on this developing story.

Don't Believe El Paso Electric Company

Don't believe El Paso Electric Company when they tell you that they are a leader in solar energy or any form of renewable energy.

EPEC just filed its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a twenty-year operations plan) with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (NMPRC). An energy and environmental expert called it a "real Edsel". He wrote that there is "[n]o ramping up of conservation or peak demand control programs.  Only 7% renewables in future new plant development plans.  No strategies for dealing with innovations in battery storage, electric vehicles, or smart grid control technologies.  Two plants are scheduled to operate at 2% of capacity, six plants at 1% or lower capacity, while yet another sits in "reserve" completely unused."

That's there 20-year operations plan for New Mexico. 

In El Paso, as you already know, they want to create a new class of ratepayers: Partial Requirements Service, i.e. solar customers and raise their rates by 24%. It's bad enough that they want to sock it to the rest of us for a 12% increase. But 24%? Wow!

Is EPEC in El Paso doing much more on renewables? No.

Moreover, Texas law pays for Conservation and Demand reduction through an EECRF, Energy Efficiency Cost Recovery Factor. It allows an electrical utility to recover costs for providing programs for customers to become more energy efficient. They want to raise our rates but they do not want to provide funding to help you and me lower our bills.

All of this sounds like a company that wants to sell you electricity at a high rate but doesn't want to encourage energy efficiency or clean, renewable energy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Does El Paso Electric CEO Shockley Sleep at Night?

That's the question when you hear his sophistry and misinformation that he feeds to the public about El Paso Electric Company's proposed rate hikes.

If you haven't, take a moment to read Vic Kolenc's El Paso Times Story, El Paso Electric wants to increase charges for solar homes

Included in that story are the onerous rate increases for every El Pasoan who doesn't have solar energy panels. That increase is 12%. Combine that fact with Lindsey Anderson's story this morning, School districts may fight El Paso Electric rate increase, because it will cost districts millions, anyone can see the huge burden these rate increases put on everyone as a rate payer and as a school district tax payer.

When it comes to solar energy users, the rate hike is 24% for what electric utilities like to call "free loading" by "free riders" (the rooftop solar owners) - getting the advantage of the utiliy's infrastructure without contributing equally to it. Nonsense! With more people converting to solar, there is less need for added infrastructure. But, less need for utility power production and distribution, means far less money that the utility makes. 

Shockley claims that EPEC has a proven record with solar. They were forced by New Mexico law six years ago to increase renewable energy production. In time EPEC discovered that solar had economic advantages so they have invested in solar energy plants. Great. What if they invested more through incentives in photovoltaic panels for homeowners and businesses and cut the need for bigger solar plants of their own? Shockley doesn't care about solar. Shockley cares about how much money his company is making. Therefore, when it comes right down to it, he doesn't want you to produce your own electricity from solar. He wants you to buy it from EPEC however they produce it - mainly with natural gas. (Frackers love him.)

The Shockley statement (reported by Kolenc) that I found most shocking was that "the rooftop solar industry has local and national lobbyists and lawyers who will aggressively make their case to regulators." By far the biggest lobbying effort against clean energy such as photovoltaics is coming from the infamous Koch Brothers and a lobbying group known as ALEC. No matter what ALEC claims about being for a free market and local control, they are anything but. They are for control of markets by mega-corporations and especially the gas and oil industry, and they want control of public laws to limit local control even to the point of those free-riding solar panel users. Just read through the following stories online:

The Koch Attack on Solar Energy

Koch Brothers And ALEC Expand Fight On Clean Energy Users

Exposing ALEC: How Conservative-Backed State Laws Are All Connected

Texas lobbying group busted for phony anti-solar campaign

In Sunshine State, Big Energy Blocks Solar Power

Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar

All efforts by the solar industry's lobbying efforts are miniscule compared to the billions paid for lobbying by the Kochs, ALEC, the fossil-fuel industries and the electric utilities themselves. Schockley must know this.

In the end, El Paso Electric will burden not just solar users but all users - homeowners, business people, schools, etc. Rate payers and tax payers. You and me. There is an online petition opposing the rate hikes. Please visit it now.

Again, from an elpasonaturally reader:

I make tacos.
You buy my tacos for $5 each.
You no like my tacos?
Then you pay me $8.
Someone has to pay for my tacos.

Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to contribute and help turn El Paso "green".

Kudos to the El Paso Herald Post

Yes, the Herald Post. It's been online for several weeks now and doing a great job. When Luke Metzger of Environment Texas sent out the press release about fracking on UT lands, he asked me to get the word out to media here in El Paso. Out of all of the contacts that I made, so far only the Herald Post has run the story. Editor-in-Chief, Chris Babcock, was on top of it immediately yesterday.

Kudos. Read the Herald Post online.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New Report: Fracking on UT Lands pollutes air and water

[Below is a press release from Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. It was released just minutes ago. A copy of the full report may be read HERE. Metzger co-authored the report with Jeff Inglis of the Frontier Group. You can still sign and share an online petition calling for no fracking on UT land next to El Paso County.]

Report: Fracking on UT Lands pollutes air and water

Student leaders call on UT to adopt strong environmental standards for drilling

AUSTIN – Fracking for oil and gas on one million acres of land owned by the University of Texas system has a substantial impact to the environment and public health, according to a first of its kind report by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group. The groups were joined by student leaders at UT Austin and UT San Antonio and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club in calling on the University Lands office to end the worst practices of fracking and write strong environmental protections in to leases they sign with oil and gas companies.

“Fracking of thousands of wells on university-owned land in recent years has consumed enormous quantities of water, introduced vast amounts of toxic chemicals into the environment, and threatened land that is valuable to the environment and wildlife,” said Luke Metzger, one of the report’s authors and Director of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. “If UT is going to continue to allow fracking, it must, at the very least, act immediately to eliminate the worst industry practices and safeguard the environment and public health.”

The report found that as many as 4,132 wells drilled on university-owned land in west Texas since 2005 have been subject to high-volume hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The drilling has had significant impact to the environment, including:
·         Use of at least 6 billion gallons of water amid a historic drought in which Texans were asked to scale back water use

·         Use of vast quantities of toxic chemicals, including 8.5 million pounds of methanol, which is suspected to cause birth defects

·         Release of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – equal to between 50,000 and 1.5 million cars in a year of driving

·         Potential threats to endangered wildlife and natural areas including untainted stretches of the Pecos River and the Diablo Plateau

The report also found that the oil and gas industry has spilled at least 1.6 million gallons of pollution on UT lands. Cleanups are not yet complete at five of the spill locations.
The group called on the University Lands Office to review best practices around the nation and write strong environmental protections into leases with oil and gas companies, including:
·         Prohibiting drilling on lands with special environmental value, such as Diablo Plateau, the Pecos River watershed, and all land that is habitat for migratory birds and endangered species

·         Aggressive reduction of water use

·         Strong clean air standards that minimize methane leakage, including minimizing the use of flaring and fully prohibit venting except in rare circumstances.

“Students are alarmed by the growing environmental crisis resulting from our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Xavier Rotnofsky, President of the UT Austin Student Government. “We expect UT to be a leader in minimizing damage to our environment. We’re making progress here on campus through installation of solar panels and use of reclaimed water. UT should show the same leadership with the oil and gas operations.”

Rohit Mandapalu, Vice President of the UT Austin Student Government, expressed optimism that the University would take these recommendations seriously, pointing to comments made earlier this year by UT Chancellor McRaven who told an audience at a Texas Tribune event that he would support stronger environmental standards as part of UT oil and gas leases. Mandapalu also highlighted the UT System sustainability policy which directs institutions to “pursue the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and “encourage suppliers to demonstrate environmental stewardship.” “UT should bring these oil and gas operations in line with our stated values on sustainability and climate impact,” said Mandapalu.

"Fracking threatens the lands, resources and health of too many Texans,” said Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Vice Chairman of the House Environmental Regulation committee. “I hope university leaders, energy producers and environmental experts act quickly and creatively to eliminate bad industry practices that threaten our health and environment."

"UT can and should require oil and gas producers to follow cost-effective and achievable best practices it allows fracking of its lands," noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. "For example, UT should require that all producers implement leak detection and repair programs, recycle their water, and utilize technologies like vapor recovery on storage tanks and no-bleed pneumatic devices when moving their product."

"Fracked wells on University Lands pumped 275 million pounds of chemicals deep underground," said report co-author Jeff Inglis, a policy analyst at Frontier Group, a non-profit public policy think tank. "Some of those chemicals come back up to the surface, creating toxic waste. And some of them stay underground, where they can contaminate our drinking water. Either way, they're a danger to the Texas environment."

FMSP Corridor Project Lets!

It's official. TxDOT is now calling for bids for the FMSP connectivity project (animal corridor with a hike and bike trail). The corridor will be constructed near the entrance to the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park. The El Paso conservation community has long awaited for TxDOT to ask for bids and then begin and complete the project. Here we go.

Click image to enlarge.
To see the bid online go to and scroll to page 68.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Friday Video: Urban Wildlife Facebook Page

Burrowing Owls

Swainson's Hawk

Burrowing Owl

Harris's Hawk

Check out the El Paso Urban Wildlife - Texas Parks and Wildlife Facebook page. Like it. Follow it. Share its posts. Go there to see a number of great videos of burrowing owls.

I mention this page because this morning I took a Celebration of Our Mountains tour of the burrowing owls of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. Lois Balin, our Urban Wildlife Biologist for TPWD, guided us. Not only did we see the owls (who weigh about a fourth to a third of a pound), we saw Swainson's Hawks, Harris's Hawks, a Roadrunner, a Kestrel or two, a Snowy Egret, Mexican Ducks and more. It was a perfect morning - mostly overcast and cool. The bit of sunlight that broke through made the Franklins and the Sierra de Juarez look as if they were covered with dazzling white snow. We saw the footprints of what we believe to have been a gray fox. Our tour was not only educational, it was joyful.

Lois is leading another tour next Friday,  September 11th, beginning at 7:30 AM. Reservations are required and there is a maximum of 7 people. (Our birdblind was the TPWD vehicle that can seat 7. It was better than a ride at Disneyland.) Check out Events on Celebration of Our Mountains for more details.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Where Are We with the Petition to Preserve Land?

What's going on with the efforts to preserve land on both sides of the Franklin Mountains? A petition sponsored by Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coaltion, elpasonaturally and others drew more than 6,000 signatures. I personally presented the results to City Council and to the Public Service Board. Since then members of FMWC have spoken with City Council members and other local officials. 

A very significant step in determining what can (and cannot) be preserved was taken this morning. Twelve people gathered at the El Paso Water Utilities to begin discussing a "preservation plan". PSB/EPWU Attorney Lupe Cuellar chaired the meeting. Besides myself, there were representatives from city planning and parks departments, the building and development community, a conservation educator, a wildlife expert, a licensed architect experienced in urban planning, two representatives from the city's resiliency and sustainability office, a land conservation expert along with two attorneys (including Ms. Cuellar) from EPWU.

As the land in question is managed by the PSB, it is appropriate that the conversation begin there and a preservation plan originate there.  The group will work with two foundational principles in mind: there is land that can and should be preserved and there is land that can and should be developed. 

There was some initial discussion about criteria for preserving the land such as ecosystem services. The conservation educator, the wildlife expert and the land conservation expert mentioned ways to quantify those services. The architect hit a homerun when she said that we identify ecologies that we should preserve. 

The group will continue to meet monthly.

I'm excited. Stay tuned. - Jim Tolbert

P.S. You can still sign the petition online.

Please visit for information about 2015 Celebration of Our Mountains events.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Say NO to El Paso Electric

I wrote the following text for a petition yesterday afternoon. Eco El Paso (along with elpasonaturally) is sponsoring the petition.

El Paso Electric Company's proposed rate hikes are not just a burden on all rate payers such as yourself but punish those who use solar panels and discourage the use of clean, renewable solar energy. The utility argues that added infrastructure costs are not shared equitably because solar users are not buying all of their electricity from them. Yet, if more people used clean, alternative photovoltaic solar power, there would be no need for added infrastructure - power lines and power stations. The simple fact is that El Paso Electric Company wants you to buy all of your electrical energy from them and they want you to buy more of it. And, btw, traditional electrical production requires massive amounts of water - a very scarce resource for all of us. Photovoltaic solar power uses just enough water to clean off the panels maybe twice per year.Support solar energy. Support conservation. Tell the Mayor and City Council of El Paso to say NO to EPEC's request for higher rates on all of us.

When I created the petition yesterday, I told just a few people. I had not posted it to social media yet. I hadn't blogged about it. Almost instantly it got 83 supporters. Let's see what happens now that the news starts getting out.

Go HERE to say HELL NO to El Paso Electric's rate hike proposal. Spread the word.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

El Paso's Natural Open Space: Some Questions for Policymakers and Citizens

Just words on a sign. The picture was taken in 2010. What progress has been made on the Palisades open space since then? Ask the taggers not the City.
[The following was written by elpasonaturally reader, Marshall Carter-Tripp. Not only are her points and questions thought-provoking, they represent the frustratioon that many citizens have with the open space policies of the City of El Paso. elpasonaturally had always looked at the Boulder, Colorado ordinances as the best examples of controlling sprawl and preserving open space. Do not expect the any strides in a similar direction from the current reactionary El Paso City Council. To do the right thing will require a sea change in the next two City Council elections in which conservation-minded persons are elected and the sprawler puppets retired.

The Open Space Advisory Board meets tomorrow, September 2nd, at 3PM in City Building 3, 801 Texas Avenue, in the unmarked Thorman Conference Room in the basement. The meeting is open to the public and there is a public comment section at the beginning of the meeting for any item not on the agenda.]

Through the PSB stormwater set-aside and the City of El Paso’s Quality of Life funding for Open Space acquisition, El Paso can preserve hundreds of acres of undeveloped Open Space, for the benefit of those who live here – humans and wildlife.  This effort began with City Council approval in late February 2007 of a master plan entitled ”Towards a Bright Future: A Green Infrastructure Plan for El Paso, Texas” (the Open Space Master Plan). A few months later the Plan was awarded the Excellence in Planning Award from the National Association of Recreation Resource Planners (This plan, unfortunately, is no longer readily available on the internet.)   Implementation moved slowly; Council created an Open Space Advisory Board some two and a half years later, in June 2009.   This Board makes recommendations to Council about priorities under the master plan.  It has no authority to require that any action take place; even its ability to discuss various is limited. 

The, perhaps inevitable, result is that Natural Open Space is not a priority for city management and the goals laid out in the Master Plan do not appear to be incorporated into city staff activity.  For example, the Open Space Master Plan calls for expansion of Keystone Heritage Park (as does the City’s Parks Master Plan).  In July 2012 the Open Space Advisory Board progress report noted that the city had purchased 29 acres south of Keystone Dam, which could be used to buffer Keystone.  But in early February 2015, supporters of Keystone learned that the city’s Environmental Services was planning to build a large trash collection site on this land. The possibility that the land in question might contain unexplored cultural resources had not been investigated.   Leaving aside the considerable noise and debris inherent in a trash collection station, which could seriously affect the quality of a visit to Keystone, the decision to build it meant that the Keystone expansion goal could not be realized.  The city had already taken no action to buy land to the north of the park, land that was now under development.

Taking a second example, the Palisades Canyon land acquired by the PSB once it had the purchasing power (the Master Plan had considered it too expensive to list it as a key goal).  Hikers and bikers had visited these 202 acres for many years, despite the “no trespassing” signs.  Usage expanded once the parcel was purchased by the PSB in 2010 and a “welcome to the Palisades” sign was installed.  Nearby residents noted, however, that many of the users did not adhere to the announced rules, such as dogs on leashes, and no private motorized vehicles.  Graffiti appeared along the trail and was not removed, even after requests were made to the streets and maintenance graffiti unit. (The city’s website asserts that graffiti removal is done in public spaces, specifically citing parks.  Apparently because the Palisades is not a park, and the graffiti cannot be seen from the street, removing it is not important.)  Trucks and other vehicles go up the trail almost every day, now apparently to service the transmission tower at the end of Sierra Crest, built in mid-2015.  These are not PSB vehicles; who granted an easement for this traffic?  How much such traffic could be tolerated in Natural Open Space? No city agency takes responsibility for what happens in the Palisades – the “official owner,” the PSB, has no component to supervise Open Space, and the Parks and Recreation Department will only occupy itself with the trailhead, once constructed.  To date even a doggy bag dispenser is lacking.  (And as the Palisades is not a city park, the dog waste ordinance would not apply, so could fines be levied?) 

The city has not supplied staff for other components of the Open Space inventory.  Keystone land is owned by the city, but it has been entirely built and maintained by a private charity, and public outreach is through its Friends of Keystone group.  Similarly, the Rio Bosque wetlands, now owned by the PSB, are managed by UTEP, and a private non-profit Friends group manages public involvement.  Park Partnerships are available for designated city parks, for help with equipment, maintenance and cleanup, but these Natural Open Space areas are not city parks.

Let’s consider what has been done in some other southwestern/western cities.  Boulder is perhaps the poster child for Open Space protection.  Voters there approved a city charter amendment in 1959 that restricted the provision of city services to development below a certain altitude, protecting the mountain from development.   In 1967 the citizens of Boulder followed with a special sales tax to provide revenue for Open Space.  Boulder County then created a Parks and Open Space Department, now celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Key to its operation is a partnership arrangement in which businesses, civic groups, and individuals provide financial and volunteer support to monitor and care for the 100,000 acres plus of Open Space now preserved in Boulder County.

Nearer home, Albuquerque has nearly 30,000 acres of city-owned Open Space, based on the 1988 comprehensive city plan, complete with Visitor Center!  (And there are many more neighboring acres under state or federal control.) Volunteer programs allow for “adoption” of particular Open Space, and the Open Space Alliance serves as a “Friends of Open Space” group.  Albuquerque’s land is managed by a division within the Parks and Recreation Department.  The management principles are to: 

Conserve Natural and archaeological resources; 
Provide opportunities for outdoor education; 
Provide a place for low impact recreation (in some but not all of the Open Space land), and
Define the edges of the urban environment.

Looking at these success stories, we in El Paso might ask ourselves:

#1  Where does the acquisition of Open Space fit in Council’s Strategic Plan, if it does?  What concern, if any, is there for conservation of El Paso’s unique asset, the mountain range, excluding further development on it?

#2  Is there a schedule for acquisition of land, and what is the goal in terms of acres?  (El Paso is fortunate to have the Franklin Mountains State Park, nearly 25,000 acres, comprising the largest urban park in the country. But these acres are not enough!)  Should Council consider setting aside at least one meeting a year to review progress and remind staff of the Open Space and Parks Master Plans? 

#3  What might trigger creation of an Open Space division, with staff, in the Parks and Recreation Department?  And associated programs for partners for Open Space or Friends of particular Open Space areas?  (The Parks Department page on the city website shows Marci Tuck as the Open Space, Trails and Parks Coordinator.  Ms Tuck left the department in mid-May, 2015.  Apparently her role is not important enough to replace.   In any case she had no responsibility for open space per se, just connections through trailheads.)

#4  How are citizens to interact with the OSAB and the PSB regarding land acquisition or other Open Space concerns if they cannot attend the daytime meetings and speak during the Call to the Public?  Who determines how much of the PSB Open Space fund is used for Park Ponds rather than the purchase of Natural Open Space?  How can citizens affect these decisions?

- Marshall Carter-Tripp