Monday, February 29, 2016

Ratepayers and Solar Users Get the Shaft

The El Paso Times reports that City Council today agreed to a $37 million electric rate-hike settlement with the El Paso Electric Company. Simply put, your rates are going up and, of course, EPEC CEO, Mary Kipp, is happy. There won't be a separate solar rate class but solar rate customers will now pay an $11/month fee. That's up from no rate fee before. Eco-El Paso board member, Shelby Ruff, wrote on Facebook: "$11/month for a solar customer means that their first kilowatt of solar is basically being stolen by the Utility for their own profits. Oh, they forgot to mention they already tax each solar panel during the permit process, so now it's a double tax! FAIL EL PASO!"

Only Rep. Svarzbein voted against the agreement.

Bottom line: we, the ratepayers, are now feeding a business dinosaur more; and, henceforth, we should buy as few electrons as we can from EPEC. 

Senator Rodriguez issued the following statement about the City Council vote to authorize its legal counsel to settle the EPEC rate case according to terms outlined by counsel:

I commend the City of El Paso for diligently advancing settlement terms in El Paso Electric's current rate case that are advantageous to all ratepayers. 

Unfortunately, I still have concerns about proposals to increase fees on residential customers who chose to install solar panels on their homes.  I acknowledge that eliminating El Paso Electric's original proposal to move solar customers into a new rate category is a positive step.  For reasons I articulated to Council* and the Public Utility Commission of Texas,** I believe that proposal would have systematically overcharged solar customers. 

Nevertheless, I fear the remaining settlement terms may still disincentivize solar growth in El Paso.  As I understood those terms, solar customers would pay an additional $11 charge on their electric bill that can decline based on how much electricity the customer buys from El Paso Electric.  It is my understanding that most solar customers' average monthly savings is less than $10 a month, so I am concerned this new charge will still eliminate customers' financial incentive to use solar. 

Moreover, I understood the proposed settlement terms would only grandfather in customers who installed solar previous to El Paso Electric's rate case filing in August.  The number of new solar customers has nearly doubled since then.  These new customers may have invested substantial money installing solar, expecting to recoup that investment in monthly energy savings.  Now, their financial calculation is no longer valid.  This is unfair.  A better result would be to at least extend grandfathering provisions to the date when the PUC finally approves El Paso Electric's new rate regime. 

I understand that not all of the solar interveners in the rate case agree with this proposed settlement.  I look forward to seeing how the PUC will ultimately decide these remaining issues.  I would again urge the PUC to seriously consider the positive contributions residential solar brings to El Paso.

* Letter to City Council, November 18, 2015,

** Letter to PUC, January 22, 2016,

Here is Attorney Norman Gordon's presentation to City Council:

Intervenor, Eco-El Paso, has not responded to an elpasonaturally inquiry whether they will agree to the settlement or continue pursuing the case with the PUC.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Friday Video: El Paso Zoo lion loves children

I took a friend who is visiting me from Philadelphia to our El Paso Zoo today. It's one of my favorite places to go. While we were there we ran into my friend, Rick LoBello, who is the Education Curator at the Zoo. He told us about plans for expansion which will be paid for with the the Quality of Life bonds. You can see the Master Plan HERE.

Not only is our El Paso Zoo the home of many exotic species from around the world, it encourages people to get involved and take action to protect animals everywhere. LoBello is the really the Activist-in Chief. The Zoo lets you know how to get involved and how to take action and support conservation.

I love the lions most of all. Here's a great video: El Paso Zoo Lion loves children.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

El Paso County Moving Ahead with Trail Initiative

El Paso County is hard at work on an inititative for a county-line to county-line trail system. They are seeking funding from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation. A form letter to the Foundation's Selection Committee that businesses, organizations and individuals have begun to personalize and sign reads:

"El Paso County residents have long recognized the need to increase access to outdoor quality of life amenities in our community.  And community leaders have also long recognized the connection between outdoor amenities like parks and trails to physical health, community engagement and even economic development.  A county-line to county-line trail that allows for walking, running, hiking and exploring would add to our inventory of outdoor recreation and promote outdoor activity that our residents could benefit from.  It could link the river to other natural waterways and drains; it could connect historic trails and sites to existing green space and parks; it would create connectivity between our two diverse valleys, underserved communities and areas in between."

The Open Space Advisory Board has been discussing a trail system for several years now but the Parks and Recreation Department seems to be stuck on the process for actually creating that trail system. They need to be focused on producting the product. It sounds like the County is focused on just that.

The El Paso County Historical Commission chaired by Bernie Sargent has been a leader in promoting the preservation and promotion of historical sites in El Paso. (Find the Historical Commission's Facebook page HERE.) By linking heritage tourism with open space, recreational opportunities for El Pasoans will increase El Paso's quality of health and be a magnet for greater economic growth in our Sun City.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Economic Prosperity IS an Ecosystem Service

When speaking about ecosystem services, we often emphasize how preserving natural spaces means less disease for us and habitat protection for flora and fauna. It's hard to put a price tag on such benefits. However, ecosystem services also include more economically measurable advantages such as economic growth, rising wages, ecotourist dollars and an expanding tourism sector, and the attraction of new residents and businesses.

Take time to read a study by Headwaters EconomicsDoña Ana County’s Public Lands and Economic Prosperity. According to their website, "Headwaters Economics is an independent, nonprofit research group that works to improve community development and land management decisions in the West."

The summary of the Doña Ana County study says it all:

"Doña Ana County’s public lands give it a competitive advantage compared to many other western communities. These lands today make important contributions to the region’s immigration, economic growth, and rising salaries and wages.

"Doña Ana County’s pristine and culturally rich public lands also are an important economic foundation for future prosperity. They support a growing travel and tourism sector, and will help attract new residents and businesses across a range of industries.

"Protecting these resources is a smart decision that capitalizes on the competitive benefits of distinctive public lands in today’s modern economy."

You could substitute "El Paso County" every time that it reads "Doña Ana County". The difference is that Las Cruces recognizes the connection between land preservation and prosperity. El Paso still doesn't get it. In El Paso the cry for preservation comes from the environmental/conservation community and not from the Chamber of Commerce and many developers. They need to recognize the hard cash value of land preservation.

People and businesses site "quality of life" as a reason for moving to a particular place. Recreational opportunities and scenic vistas are parts of this quality of life. Ecotourists look for a variety of experiences: hiking, mountain biking, birding, river walks, etc. 

"Protected public lands are a competitive economic advantage in southern New Mexico and Doña Ana County. These lands safeguard important natural assets and cultural landmarks, stimulate tourism and recreation jobs, and attract new people and businesses." 

"People are moving to the region because of its high quality of life. Services industries that employ a wide range of people—from doctors and engineers to teachers and accountants—are driving economic growth and make up the large majority of jobs today. These industries are raising wages and, along with rapid increases in non-labor income from investment and retirement sources, are helping to elevate per capita income.

"Looking ahead, protecting the world-class public lands that surround Las Cruces should be an important part of any economic development strategy for the region." (Headwaters Doña Ana study, emphases mine)

Again, just substitute El Paso County for Doña County.

Apparently the El Paso County Commissioners get "it". County Commissioners are developing an economic plan which emphasizes heritage tourism and a county-line to county-line trail system which will give more recreation opportunities for residents to walk, bike and enjoy the great outdoor assets El Paso has to offer.  One of those assets is the Rio Grande River.

With all of its squabbling, backbiting and commitments to sprawlers, City Council doesn't and can't get the connection between preservation of its natural assets and economic prosperity.

What the Headwaters Study shows us is that preserving natural assets has measurable, positive economic results. Now that's an ecosystem service.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Progress on Tom Mays Corridor

Photos by Rick Bonart

It may not look like much yet. However, work on the Tom Mays underpass (Animal, Hike, Bike Corridor) continues at a steady clip. The official name of this corridor being constructed by TxDOT is the "Park Connectivity Project". Tom Mays is a "Unit" of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

TxDOT Regional Engineer, Bob Bielek, reports: We are trying to accelerate and finish this year but most likely February or March of next year."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Closed for the Week

I'm taking this week off from blogging. I'm having an early spring break with an old buddy in town. See you next week.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Friday Video: Owls Underground

Here's our very own Urban Biologist, Lois Balin, in a well-produced Texas Parks and Wildlife Department video. It well documents the kind of habitat destruction caused by urban sprawl as well as the habits of burrowing owls who are pretty darn cute. (The video also includes the amazing dog, Zimba.) Lois and her volunteers have constructed some burrows fitted with cameras so that the birds can be documented in their homes.

Sad to report that yesterday Lois discovered that a burrow at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park had been vandalized. She and some of her helpers are doing repairs today. It is so sad that some will destroy things just for the sake of destruction.

If you'd like to volunteer to help Lois with her burrowing owls, contact her at

Visit El Paso Urban Wildlife on Facebook.

Here's one more video about development, burrowing owl habitat and Lois:

Construction Encroaches on Burrowing Owls Habitat 

If you get elpasonaturally by email, click on the link or go to to see "Owls Underground".

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Killing Algae at Ascarate Lake

Photo by KFOX News

You probably have heard about the algae problem at Ascarate Lake that is killing fish. The El Paso Times story is HERE. The proposed remedy is a product called GreenClean Liquid 5.0. A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department official says: "As the GreenClean kills the algae it may be causing a dissolved oxygen problem that would kill the fish. The lake may need more aeration or they may not be following the directions on the label. The information is contradictory as to whether it is toxic to wildlife and the label places 77% of the ingredients under the category of 'other'."

The matter will take more time to discover if GreenClean Liquid 5.0 is really safe for lake life and people. TPWD personnel are working on it.

Question: will the County wait for the verdict or just go ahead and apply the broad spectrum algaecide? According to Commissioner David Stout the County is holding off on the treatment for now in order to explore options.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Commissioner's Court Gets It Right

Members of the El Paso County Historical Commission (Facebook) and their supporters have much to celebrate today. The County Commissioner's Court approved unanimously a motion made by Commissioner David Stout to fund an historic survey of several areas in El Paso including downtown. The survey will not force owners to do anything to their buildings. However, should they want to renovate and keep the historic integrity of their buildings, they can count on state and federal incentives. 

Last July City Council just did not get this. They rejected a similar proposal which also included a $56,000 grant to cover the costs of the survey. That grant is no longer available but that did not stop the Commissioners from funding a survey up to $140,000. 

County Judge Escobar praised the Historic Commission and thanked Stout for his work in bringing the proposal before the Court.

The Vice-Chair of the El Paso County Historical Commission, Max Grossman, released this statement to elpasonaturally:

"This victory is a huge win for the City and County of El Paso. Our plan will incentivize historic preservation rather than mandate it. The federal and state tax credits, which are extraordinarily generous, will be so attractive to real estate investors that they will want to restore their assets rather than demolish them. If the successes of these credits in other Texas cities are any indication of what we can expect in El Paso, our downtown economy is about to take off. Moreover, the downtown national historic district that will soon be established will drive heritage tourism, the fastest growing sector of our state's tourism economy. Yesterday's unanimous vote gave us enormous satisfaction, and we look forward to partnering with the County until this project is complete."

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Friday Video: World Population

World Population from Population Education on Vimeo.

You have got to watch this video. It well makes its point. 

Apologies to those of you who get elpasonaturally via email. You will have to go to to view it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

RIP New Urbanism in El Paso

There are several reasons. First, in 2013 voters, upset by the city's financing of the ballpark and other issues, elected a regressive City Council. In many respects it is the best Council ever bought and paid for by developers of land mainly in east El Paso. Following that election, the new Council hired Tommy Gonzalez to be the City Manager. Pushed by powerful players such as Ted Houghton, more miles of freeways and freeway loops have been built and will continue to be built and expanded over the next few years as westsiders know all too well. Freeways create sprawl. Rather than boulevards, we built freeways. Why? So we could move construction equipment and materials more easily around the city in order to build more developments and eventually more freeways not to mention ticky-tacky strip malls. The trend has been away from smart growth, Plan El Paso, building codes which could have encouraged sustainable, energy-efficient housing and soon-to-be changes to the landscape ordinance.

Note how Plan El Paso appears on the city web site. Scroll through the first few pages and you will see unreadable gibberish. 

Along with clamping down against New Urbanism, the new "regime" has now opened the doors to a new El Paso brain drain. Many of the city's best and brightest city planners are beginning to look at work outside of El Paso. 

The new regime has also stymied work by the Open Space Advisory Board. Recommendations are held up. The new Director of Planning has covertly taken over what will and won't be on agendas. Agenda items today are largely for "information" rather than discussion and action.

What can be done? It goes without saying that we need more innovative, progressive policy makers on Council. It also means that we all need to become aware of city codes and work to change those that lead to unsustainablility and the destruction of our environment. Especially it means that as consumers we begin to choose other options for housing, neighborhoods, connectivity, walkability and transportaion. If they build it, they will come? No, if the sprawlers want to sprawl, let's have nothing to do with it except to do everything that we can to limit it and regulate it. Then let's build better and smarter.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

City of El Paso Promotes the Destruction of the Franklin Mountains

If you have ever walked on a desert path, this is nothing like it. The path that Parks and Recreation has devised at the Archaeology Museum is unnatural and is the result of the UGLY gouging at the CEMEX McKelligon Canyon quarry.

I have published about the eradication of the Franklin Mountains by CEMEX at their McKelligon Canyon quarry. I've also pointed out that the city's Parks and Recreation Department has created unnatural paths using red rock screenings from the same quarry on the grounds of the Archaeological Museum. 

Click on image to enlarge.
Read it and weep.

Take a good look at the June 17, 2015 Purchase Order above. Apparently Parks and Rec buys a huge amount of materials from the CEMEX quarry and stores it at their Land Management Warehouse on Delta. Notice the tonnage of the Franklin Red, Mesa Red, Red Top Soil, screenings and sand. Notice the bottom line: $39,692! In other words, Parks and Recreation promotes the destruction of our mountains.

But it not just the Parks and Recreation Department. Every month our Streets and Maintenance Department buys tons of materials from the quarry. 

Aerial photo of CEMEX McKelligon Canyon quarry by Scott Cutler

Bottom line: the City of El Paso is complicit in the destruction of the Franklin Mountains by CEMEX at its McKelligon Canyon quarry.

If we love our mountains, it is time to tell the City to stop. We don't need all the rock and screenings used on park paths and medians. Besides, the placement of rocks in medians must follow the plans of a graduate from the University of Ugly Design. 

Currently the El Paso Group Sierra Club has an action petition asking Franklin Mountains State Park and Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife to do a survey to determine whether CEMEX has encroached on park land. In a comment to one of my posts, Dan Knapp says that they have indeed encroached. 

Look soon for an action petition telling Parks and Recreation and Streets and Maintenance officials to stop buying materials from CEMEX. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tom Mays Underpass, Solar Energy, New Council and Glass Recycling

Rather than doing several posts, I decided to just bring you up to date about several items.

Photo by Rick Bonart

At long last the work has begun to construct a hike/bike/animal corridor underneath Transmountain to connect the FMSP land to the south to the FMSP’s Tom Mays Unit to the north. I had been made aware of this several weeks ago from a friend of mine and also a friend of TxDOT Regional Engineer Bob Bielek. Now the buzz has begun via email as some have passed by the construction site.


On the solar front, a potential settlement on EPEC's rate case before the PUC may happen tomorrow. Some are saying that it is the best proposal, which means that nobody will be happy. Who may be the unhappiest: (1) all the folks who will lose their jobs when EPEC kills the solar industry in El Paso, (2) all current solar users and (3) all El Pasoans who will lose a chance to have a clean, sustainable energy future.

Take a look at what France is doing. Imagine roads of solar panels that you can drive on. 

Check out the Bloomberg Business Report Who Owns the Sun. Be sure to watch the video.

Also read New Report Reveals Electric Utility Industry's Influence at Universities. (Note that NMSU is part of the cabal.) It is clear that the fossil fuel and electric utility companies are "out to get" the distributed solar energy industry. 

Read Senator José Rodríguez's op-ed piece in yesterday's El Paso Times as well as his piece in the Rio Grande Guardian. HERE is what he wrote to the PUC. 


Good news from last week's regular City Council meeting. An ordinance establishing a Regional Renewable Energy Advisory Council passed. Many thanks go to Rep. Peter Svarzbein for being proactive on Council rather than playing politics and being reactive.


Finally, it seems like glass recycling in El Paso is off to a good start. Marshall Carter-Tripp reports: "I went to the Northwest Collection Center today.  As promised, no water bill was required.  What they had was four recycle bins along a wall.  They had different color tops.  You put the glass in the bins yourself.  Unfortunately the bin with the blue top had been pretty much filled with brown bottles, so I put my blue bottle in with the green bottle and hoped for the best.   The clear glass went in a bin with a grey top. Hope they will refine it a bit but it went well."

For the glass recycling pilot program to succeed, we not only should recycle bottles but use the end products for mulch and more.