Residents object to power rate increase
Las Cruces Bulletin
At its first public meeting on a proposed rate increase, El Paso Electric Co. (EPE) officials took questions from southern New Mexico residents about how it will cost low-electrical users more and why Texas users pay less.
The Doña Ana County Commission Chamber was full Wednesday, June 3, for the first of a Great Conversations town hall series on the rate proposal that EPE officials said would result in an average 9 percent increase in residential rates.
EPE, a privately held utility company, is seeking the increase as it plans to build another natural gas-generated plant while ending its contribution to coal-generated power. Although residents at the town hall meeting said they were pleased to see EPE stepping away from coal-based power, a number with solar energy system said the rate increase breakdown penalizes them more than others.
Mark Westbrock of Positive Energy Solar said his concerns came from looking at the actual rate case filing in which different proposed rates are given at different levels of usage. His customers install solar to either eliminate their electric bill or at least greatly reduce their need to buy power from EPE. While many of his customers generate excess energy in the spring and fall, they do need to buy power in the summer and winter, he said.
The EPE filing gives a number of different rate increase scenarios that vary according to usage. The one that caught Westbrock’s attention was a sample monthly bill for using about 100 kilowatt hours of electricity (kWh). In that example, the bill went from $18.29 to $20.93, which is more than 9 percent, he said.
“An efficient energy consumer may only use 100 kWh per month of energy and would see their electric bill increase by more than 14 percent,” Westbrock wrote on his company’s blog after the meeting. “In contrast, a less energy conscious homeowner who uses 1,000 kWh would only see their bill increase by less than 1 percent and someone using 2,000 kWh would not see any increase in their bill. Small businesses will also see their fixed monthly charges go up, while their per kWh charges decrease. Large businesses are actually looking at no change in their fixed customer charge while all of their energy and demand charges decrease.”
Part of the reason the lower user is paying a higher increase, he said, is that a fixed cost fee that is now $7 would be increased to $10 under the EPE rate proposal.
“The increase to the fixed fee alone is 43 percent,” he said.
Westbrock also is asking why EPE wants to charge a slight higher rate for customers with solar systems.
“They didn’t really have a good answer,” he said.
Rocky Bacchus, an owner of One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating in Las Cruces, said New Mexico customers are already paying much higher rates than EPE’s Texas customers, including institutions such as the schools and New Mexico State University.
EPE CEO Tom Shockley said the Texas Legislature requires a 20-percent energy discount be given to its universities, which is why the University of Texas at El Paso gets cheaper electricity than NMSU.
As for solar households, they tend to be higher energy users when they are not generating electricity, such as at night, Shockley said.
Another criticism levied at EPE was how much profit it made for its shareholders and executive pay.
“It’s all about preserving and increasing El Paso Electric’s profits,” Steve Fischmann of the Southwest Energy Alliance said.
Todd G. Dickson may be reached at 680-1983 or todd@ lascrucesbulletin.com.
‘An efficient energy consumer may only use 100 kWh per month of energy and would see their electric bill increase by more than 14 percent.’
Todd G. Dickson