El Paso Electric’s 2017 rate case asks to discriminate against solar customers

El Paso Electric filed a rate case yesterday that wants to create a second-class citizen status for solar customers. Why do utilities keep thinking they'll be able to get away with this?

Another utility, using the false “cost-shift” argument, wants to put solar customers in a special class to hit them with additional fees that won’t affect other customers.

Yesterday, El Paso Electric Co. (EPE), which serves approximately 400,000 retail and wholesale customers of the Rio Grande valley in west Texas and southern New Mexico, filed a rate case with the city of El Paso, other municipalities incorporated in its Texas service territory, and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) a request for an increase in non-fuel base revenues of approximately $42.5 million.

Hidden deep in the request, almost as an afterthought, is the second request from EPE (the first one occurred in its 2015 rate case) to segregate solar customers into a separate class of customers so they can charge “the full cost of service to the new rate group,” as well as implementing a demand charge that it claims is to  and is also proposing to recover the cost of grid-related services.

Asking for demand charges is a common tactic for utilities looking to discriminate against solar customers. In most cases, utilities justify the requests with the false argument that solar customers don’t pay their fair share of grid-upkeep costs, as EPE does in this filing.

But a recent report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center (EARPC) that reviewed 16 recent state-level analyses of the value of solar concluded that having solar customers on the grid does not have a negative effect on non-solar ratepayers.

To date, at least 16 states have reviewed the question of whether having solar customers in a state burdens non-solar customers with excessive costs of infrastructure upkeep. EARPC’s analysis showed the argument, often put forth by utilities trying to limit solar’s growth, is false.

But EPE residential solar customers can take some solace in a the latest report from the NC Clean Energy Technology Center’s (NCCETC) 50 States of Solar: Q4 2016 Quarterly Report and Annual Review.

The report found that though demand charges received a lot of attention last year, fewer utilities proposed the charges in 2016, and those that did found unreceptive audiences among regulators. Not a single commission approved such a request, so evidence indicates that EPE may have a hard time convincing PUCT of the necessity of creating a new second-class citizen rate class for solar customers.