By Robert Moss,
Eco El Paso board member
In February 2017, El Paso Electric (EPE) yet again filed to increase rates in its Texas service region.
It was only in August that the company completely withdrew its proposed fees on solar in Texas. But following a couple of highly profitable quarters, it is again seeking a rate increase. Their residential customers and the citizens’ advocates for living sustainably, Eco El Paso, are weary of fighting but believe we must in order to assure fairness in Texas.
El Paso Electric continues to assert that the solar residential customers receiving service under net-metering laws in both Texas and New Mexico are not paying their fair share for the use of the grid. EPE again seeks to sow division among the residents by its unsubstantiated claims that one element from among the class is being “unfairly subsidized” by the others. Studies have shown that rooftop solar actually provides a net benefit to other ratepayers and the utility, in part because they provide energy to the grid when demands are at their highest and electricity prices are too.
Consider for a moment the gorilla in the room when we speak of subsidies. The greatest subsidy is the allowance by government to permit a utility to operate with an unchallenged monopoly, proposing what suits its interests and then passing those added costs on to its captive customers.
Also consider that when a utility determines to grow its generation fleet, it does so because some select customers consume much more energy than do others. Are those customers levied with a higher incremental fee sufficiently scaled to pay for the increasing fleet size? Smaller customers appear to pay for a disproportionate share of this growth due to system uses by larger customers. In effect, the utilities are subsidizing their largest customers through rate design on the backs of the smallest and most economically distressed consumers.
In the current case, EPE has proposed a rate structure that causes its residential customers to be broken into separate residential rate classes: those with solar and those without. EPE is proposing to set the customer charge for solar residents $7.30 higher than the regular residential customers’ proposed customer charge.
There is also a $6.20-per-kW peak-demand charge. This is a multiplier affected by the most power magnitude used within a month. For instance, if you microwave a meal while also running your clothes dryer and the evaporative cooler, the 5 kW of demand in that time increment might be your largest power use of the month. That results in 5 kW multiplied by $6.20 to result in an added non-volumetric fee of $31 in the month.
This charge will be assessed even if the demand doesn’t occur during the system peak hours, so it is not cost-based. Last among the unique provisions is a mandatory time-of-use rate structure for solar residences, costing roughly 31 cents per kWh in the peak times of the day, while costing 3.5 cents during other hours. So if you have only a few solar panels and are forced to use on-peak energy from the grid, the mandatory time-of-use rate will cause your bill to go up faster. This seems discriminatory and unnecessary when the utility could achieve its revenue goals with a properly designed tiered rate structure.
Yet again through this new rate design, EPE is seeking to treat its customers who are conservation-minded in a manner that will discourage conservation. How are we ever going to fix our climate-change challenges if utilities like EPE are continually allowed to retain such a grip on our wallets despite customers’ best efforts to be good stewards of our planet? We all must take a stand for what is right and reasonable.
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