Commentary: Austin - Sen. José Rodríguez wrote a letter to El Paso City Council urging them to oppose El Paso Electric Company's proposed pricing scheme for solar customers. EPE proposes to charge more to customers who seek to conserve power and lower costs; this is bad for El Paso and could set a dangerous precedent for other communities across Texas.
"Quite frankly, I still do not see how solar customers are functionally any different than other customers trying to lower their energy bills by, for example, using energy efficient appliances or weatherizing their homes — or for that matter, going completely off grid and using a portable generator," wrote Sen. José Rodríguez. "If EPE gets its way, only solar customers would be charged more for wanting to rely on EPE's grid less."
The Texas Public Utility Commission plans to begin hearings on the proposal, and an overall rate increase request from the utility, on Aug. 21. A similar request was made by the utility in 2015, and the rate case ultimately was settled without inclusion of the solar penalties, which in this latest proposal could increase rates for some solar customers by 100 percent. EPE argues that solar customers, because they use less electricity, do not pay for maintenance of the grid, the system that delivers energy from a power plant to a customer. However, in developing this argument, EPE discounted facts that show how solar customers actually help the system.
"It's shameful that EPE still refuses to consider the numerous positive contributions residential solar brings, including less demand on their grid during peak usage. Solar also helps keep electricity costs low for all ratepayers by eliminating the need to construct new power plants," the letter states. "Additionally, excess energy produced by a solar customer can be immediately sold by EPE to the customer's neighbors — at a substantial up-charge — without any extra infrastructure costs to the utility.
"According to an OPUC filing in the 2015 rate case, EPE did not consider any offset for the value of solar energy when it calculated costs of solar customers, producing an outcome biased in favor of the utility. Consumers should not be coerced into dependence upon utility-generated power simply because the utility wants to maintain its profits."
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus. He is Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, & Rural Affairs, and a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development, Transportation, and Veteran Affairs & Border Security.