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Eliot Shapleigh: El Paso could use electricity innovation, too
February 7, 2010

"Minus Twenty" -- forecast for El Paso?"

Minus twenty sounds like the temperature in the Arctic.

So what does it mean in Texas?

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh, The El Paso Times

"Minus Twenty" -- forecast for El Paso?"

Minus twenty sounds like the temperature in the Arctic.

So what does it mean in Texas?

It's what your energy bill can be in Houston. The idea of installing solar panels on the rooftops of energy-efficient, affordable homes was pitched to the City of Houston by Zach Burghli. By early fall, Burghli had built 10 such homes.

In June 2009, the second- hottest month recorded in Houston's history, the electric bill on one of these homes was "minus $20." The homeowner actually got money back as a credit for his electricity!

How's that for innovation?

Houston is also working to provide more affordable housing while encouraging clean energy. The Houston Hope program, which was spearheaded by ex-Mayor Bill White, makes energy-efficient homes available to low- to moderate-income families.

And what about the electric bill?

Houston residents can sell excess electricity from their solar roofs to TXU energy company. TXU pays homeowners 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

That excess energy then goes back into the grid for use across Houston.

Incorporating solar into affordable housing makes economic sense; utility costs are reduced for some of the lowest-income families.

Ultimately, the price of construction of these homes is offset by the energy savings plus the revenue from excess energy sold to the utility.

For nearly a century, Texas has led the nation in hydrocarbon energy production. Texas is blessed once again to be able to lead in solar energy.

El Paso is literally the "Sun City" -- we are best- positioned to develop, market and lead the state in encouraging solar energy. With an average of 202 days of sun per year, El Paso ranks sixth in the country for the highest percent annual possible sunshine average (85 percent). El Paso should be the next solar capital of Texas.

For several years, our Senate office has asked El Paso Electric (EPE) to take much more aggressive steps to lower costs, allow consumers to generate and sell solar power, and put El Paso on the map.

Changing EPE from a 1950s electric company to a 21st-century company must be a top community priority. EPE needs to significantly increase business and residential solar power use, invest in large-scale solar installations, and increase public awareness.

In December 2009, EPE filed a rate case with the Public Utility Commission to increase its rates. As part of its case, EPE submitted language for the rate at which EPE would buy back surplus renewable power generated by a typical homeowner (for example, solar rooftop panels or a solar water heater).

In Houston, TXU customers know that they will receive 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour and Green Mountain customers will get the full retail price (around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour).

EPE needs to clarify their language and methodology so that customers will know with certainty that they will receive a reasonable rate if they choose to invest in renewable energy.

In El Paso, "minus twenty" should mean what it means in Houston -- more money in the family budget.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh represents El Paso in Texas Senate District 29.

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