Contentious El Paso rate case headed for settlement

Source: By Ryan Maye Handy, Associated Press • Posted: Monday, August 28, 2017

Workers install a SolarCity rooftop solar system at a home in the Dallas area. SolarCity is about to enter the Houston market.

A contentious utility rate case in El Paso is headed for a settlement, after the city’s electric utility and residents have fought over proposed rate increases for customers with rooftop solar power.

Earlier this year, El Paso Electric, an investor-owned utility that services El Paso and areas of New Mexico, announced that it wanted to separate 2,800 customers with rooftop solar into their own rate class. The new rates could raise bills for those customers by as much as 100 percent.

Consumer and clean energy advocates have protested the increase as unfairly targeting solar power users. But El Paso maintains it needs to make up for lost revenue — around $800 to $1,000 annually per each customer with solar power.

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The settlement, between the utility and the city of El Paso, will still be subject to approval by the Public Utility Commission.

As rooftop solar becomes more popular in Texas, the issue of how to charge solar customers is likely to persist. The problem, utilities argue, is they have fixed costs to provide transmission, and power generated by rooftop solar systems cuts into the revenues they need to keep their systems reliable. If solar users want to be able to tap that transmission system when the sun is not out, they need to pay rates that allow utilities to maintain their lines, the companies argue.