Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Fight for "Customer Choice"

Help save us all money!

El Paso Electric (EPE) wants a humongous rate increase: initially $8.6 million, dropped to $6.4 million.

Recently, a hearing examiner's proposed decision (PD) recommended giving EPE about one-tenth of that, $640,000.

That was good. Credit intervenors, including U.S. Congressional candidate Merrie Lee Soules, One-Hour Air-Conditioning, and our City, County, and Attorney-General. 

But the PD, apparently a huge victory for customers, would actually be a devastating and expensive loss if allowed to stand! 

The relatively “small” overall increase is actually a huge increase to residential customers and a decrease for some large customers. Worse, most of the residential increase is to a “customer charge” that even the smallest customers pay, regardless of usage. Our poorest citizens get hit hardest.

Part of the reason we get hosed, and big companies get a decrease, is that they have a Time of Use rate and we don't. EPE determines rates mainly based on customers' “peak usage”; but while big customers can cut back to save on peak, EPE discourages residential customers from decreasing their peak-time usage. EPE doesn't give them a clear signal that shifting usage will save money. 

Each of us needs to write or call the PRC seeking “Customer Choice.”

Intervenors have proposed a wholly voluntary Customer Choice pilot program limited to 4% of EPE's customers. Customers could use less energy at peak times and save money, the way large users can. Demonstrating that we could adjust our usage would help both our wallets and our environment. 

Why would EPE oppose Customer Choice? Because if EPE can keep “peak usage” very high, it can sell the PRC on the idea that EPE needs to build additional huge (and wasteful) power plants so as to be able to supply the “peak usage” needed on the highest-usage day of the year. If usage gets evened out more, there's no such excuse. 

We're talking big money: EPE says it will build $1.1 billion in new assets over the next five years, possibly raising rates 40% – all to hit the “peak usage” need that doesn't have to occur! We're also talking urgency: EPE will file its next rate increase in early 2017.

Only by implementing the Customer Choice pilot program NOW can we help stave off this madness, by showing that many customers, if allowed, will choose to save money by washing and drying their clothes at a non-peak usage times. If we can't implement it now, we can't demonstrate that it works in time to forestall huge capital expenditures by EPE for unnecessary new power plants that we'll be paying for for decades.

It's a mystery why the hearing examiner proposes to deny us Customer Choice. The pilot program would be a small, sensible effort to gather accurate information. EPE might not want accurate information that could show its additional power plants would be a waste of money; but why should the hearing examiner or the PRC – our employees – oppose it? 

The PD claimed that there wasn't sufficient detail in the record; but Intervenors supplied huge boxes of data, including four years' worth of analysis, extensive data, and a detailed rate schedule!

The County Commission – led by Chairman Wayne Hancock and Billy Garrett – gave county attorneys clear orders to fight this; the City is doing the same. Please add your voice to the chorus!

My blog post today has further information and the Commission's address; but at least email and call Commissioner Sandy Jones at (505) 827-4531 /

Ask that we be allowed to show what we can do. We need Customer Choice.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 28 February, and will appear later on the KRWG-TV website.  You may comment directly on this blog-post, on by clicking on Opinion and looking for this column, which will be under a different headline;, or by clicking on News then Local Viewpoints on the KRWG site.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticism.]

Please write:
Public Regulation Commission
1120 Paseo de Peralta
PERA Building
P.O. Box 1269
Santa Fe, NM 87504

Please call or email :
Karen L. Montoya    (505) 827-8015
Patrick Lyons            (505) 827-4531
Valerie Espinoza       (505) 827-4533
Lynda Lovejoy          (505) 827-8019
Sandy.Jones               (505) 827-8020

Tell them "Customer Choice" makes sense for EPE's customers -- and for the environment -- and that it's only fair!

Mr. Jones is "our" Commissioner.  I'd suggested calling him, if you just call one; and if you send an email, direct it to him but "cc" the others.
[You might also "cc" County Commission Chairman Wayne Hancock and/or Mayor Miyagashima, to express support for their interventions, which helped decrease the rate increase 93% from what EPE filed for.]
[But the PD retains or even strengthens the unfairness of EPE's rates.  And I can only tell you that the closer you look, the worse EPE's conduct here smells!]

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