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, http://interchange.puc.state.tx.us/WebApp/Interchange/Documents/44941_303_873542.PDF
** Letter to PUC, January 22, 2016, http://interchange.puc.state.tx.us/WebApp/Interchange/Documents/44941_629_879918.PDF
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.