Community Resiliency and the Power of Solar Make El Paso’s Future Bright

Located in the Chihuahuan Desert, the arid climate of El Paso, Texas is a stressor on energy systems and puts the city at risk for sustainability challenges like drought. These challenges stand to worsen as climate change presents more extreme weather patterns globally. El Paso knows these risks and continues to work towards creative solutions to support the future prosperity of their city. In 2016, El Paso Electric (EPE) became the first utility in Texas and New Mexico to completely eliminate coal generation from its portfolio, and in April of 2017 El Paso achieved Gold SolSmart designation, continuing since to serve as an example for energy efficiency across the state.

Opportunities across Texas to go solar are continuing to increase, and about 30% of the state’s planned solar capacity will be built near El Paso in the Permian Basin. This area provides plentiful sunlight, which in addition to decreasing solar technology costs makes fostering this renewable source of energy appealing. Shelby Ruff, the Board President of Eco El Paso echoed this sentiment saying, “Solar energy is a major part of the clean energy transition that provides high paying, local jobs. El Paso is one of the best cities for sunlight in the U.S. Our solar panels produce more power every day than the rest of Texas.”

El Paso’s policy choices have also contributed to their community’s ability to reach sustainability goals and practice energy efficiency. For example, the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) initiative is an El Paso County program that enables owners of commercial and industrial properties to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for water conservation, energy-efficiency improvements, and renewable retrofit. Additionally, El Paso’s Community Solar Program allows homeowners, renters, and businesses alike to purchase solar power from a local facility to supplement their energy needs, and has subscriptions available for less than a dollar a day! This program is the first of its kind in Texas and will provide locally generated, renewable, zero emission energy for the next 30 years.

Recently, El Paso Electric established the Customer Advisory Partnership in order to promote collaboration between the energy utility and community members from a variety of local businesses and community organizations. This working group had their first meeting in July of 2021 and will continue to work together to generate new technology and energy infrastructure to support El Paso’s economic growth while prioritizing community input.

Always making public input a priority, the Regional Renewable Energy Advisory Committee (RREAC) advises the City Council as an Ad Hoc Committee providing recommendations to City Council on all matters related to renewable energy strategy and industry development. Early in 2021, the RREAC approved its Strategic Plan aiming to advocate for partnerships between community, industry, public institutions and utilities to promote increased access to affordable renewable energy and reinforce grid reliability while driving renewable industry development and local innovation demonstrating clear action to mitigate the global climate crisis improving quality of life for all El Pasoans.

RREAC’s Strategic Plan will drive the community’s efforts to be a leader among North American cities in renewable energy.

In addition to their community-based sustainability initiatives, El Paso is unique from many other Texas communities since their electric utility, El Paso Electric, is part of the Western Interconnection power grid. The majority of Texans receive their power from the Texas Interconnection grid which is managed by ERCOT. This protected El Paso from the extended power outages and rolling blackouts that affected millions of Texans in February of 2021. Most recently, EPE completed a renewable generation study, a first analysis on how to achieve decarbonization of their portfolio.

Through El Paso’s commitment to nurturing its diverse community towards a sustainable and equitable future, they foster an environment where all residents are able to thrive. SolSmart designation is one piece of this puzzle, the program’s individualized and streamlined designation process allows for integration with El Paso’s unique history and assets. Find out how SolSmart can help your city open for solar business.

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