[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."