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El Paso Electric seeks to raise rates for solar customers

Photo by Lucas Braun, Wikimedia Commons

By Caroline Halter
El Paso Electric wants to raise rates for residential solar customers in West Texas. Rate case hearings began on Monday, and many are worried how a ruling in the company's favor would affect the future of solar in Texas.

If the company gets its way, residential solar customers in parts of West Texas will see rate increases averaging 23 percent. That’s compared to 9.1 percent for non-solar customers.

Earlier this month, the El Paso City Council passed a resolution opposing the increase, following a letter from Jose Senator Rodriguez.

"We’ve got a problem with this company when they keep increasing rates at the expense of the rate payers," said Rodriguez in an interview. He pointed out that the utility raised rates last year and its profits have increased.

El Paso Electric argues their costs have increased and solar customers need to pay more to maintain the grid, but Rodriguez worries that a ruling in the company’s favor could discourage homeowners from adopting solar.

"If they’re not going to be saving on electricity costs, then what’s the point of making an investment on rooftop solar?" asked Rodriguez.

The case is being watched by the solar industry and advocates because it could set precedent for upcoming rulings in Texas and even across the country. For example, the state’s largest regulated utility, Oncor, wants to add a monthly minimum charge for homeowners who have solar panels.

This week’s hearings are expected to last four to five days. Following that, the Public Utility Commission will issue a ruling.