Texas slaps El Paso solar customers with $30 minimum bill

No matter how many times El Paso Electric Company tries to get solar customers slotted into a separate rate class, the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) turns them down, as they did yesterday when they approved a settlement between the solar industry and the utility.

But solar customers didn’t get off scot free this time around. While they escaped being segregated from other El Paso Electric customers and hit with special charges, the PUCT did approve a plan to let the utility impose a minimum bill of $30 on customers – the highest minimum bill seen by pv magazine staff to date anywhere in the nation.

The minimum bill provision was a compromise between the utility and Texas’ solar industry. In exchange, current solar customers received an exemption from its provisions for 20 years.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which was a party to the settlement, admitted it was an imperfect decision and worried about the effect it might have on the future of solar growth in the state. The newly-established rate structure will complicate the decisions of future solar customers when they try to chose what rate works best for them.

According to SEIA’s latest Solar Market Insight report, Texas is one of the fastest-growing solar markets in the country. (pv magazine‘s Americas Editor Christian Roselund filed an in-depth report last year on what Texas has to do to keep its momentum going.)

“While this settlement is far from perfect, SEIA is pleased that the El Paso Electric Company was willing to negotiate with the many parties in this case ,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state the affairs for SEIA. “Under a new grandfathering provision, current solar customers in the market will now be able to enjoy their solar systems without fear of penalty.”

The minimum bill provision goes into effect by January 13, 2018.

El Paso Electric Company is a regional electric utility providing generation, transmission and distribution service to approximately 417,000 retail and wholesale customers in a 10,000 square mile area of the Rio Grande valley in west Texas and southern New Mexico.