EL PASO, Texas - The County of El Paso will have to hire outside attorneys as it looks to intervene in the El Paso Electric rate increase proposal, County Judge Veronica Escobar said Monday.
The County originally planned to intervene on its behalf, a process known as a "Rate 41." Commissioners changed course Monday.
"We thought we might be able to participate in all of the cases, meaning the Rate 41, which is specific for government entities, and in the residential and solar cases," Escobar said, "But we were told by the administrative judge that we had to pick. Either we participate in the Rate 41 case or we intervene in the residential and solar case."
Monday, commissioners decided to withdraw from "Rate 41" and focus on the rate case involving all rate payers with a specific interest on solar customers, Escobar said.
The County Judge said the Rate 41 case will go forward without the County of El Paso. "Other local governments are going to pursue that case and if they prevail, we will also benefit from that outcome," Escobar said.
Intervening in the rate case will be expensive for county taxpayers, but Escobar believes it is the right move. "I think the court feels that it is worth it because, if we can make some kind of an impact in the solar arena, and with the overall rate case, all ratepayers will be able to benefit," Escobar added.
"The concern raised by the court, specifically with solar customers, is the increases that are being recommended may have a detrimental impact on our ability to be a competitive area in the future when it comes to solar energy," Escobar said, "We may not prevail, but we think it's a worthy cause. It's important that we bring our ideas to the table."
The County Attorney is going to start looking for expert attorneys to counsel the County on the matter, Escobar said.
El Paso Electric has not shied away from the fact its newest rate proposal will increase prices for private, solar customers. The utility said, under the proposed rates, customers with solar panels will see an average increase of about $14 per month.
County Commissioner Vince Perez has also said recently he's concerned the proposed rate increase could put a dent in the solar industry in El Paso.
El Paso Electric spokesman Eddie Gutierrez recently told ABC-7 the $14 estimate is based on the fact that residents without solar panels are helping subsidize those that do have them. "The $14 a month for private solar customers reflects and attempts to capture a portion of the bill -- of the wires and poles, the system to be on standby -- to attempt to capture the subsidy that's currently being imposed upon residents that don't have this technology," Gutierrez said.