The purchase El Paso Electric (EPE) by JP Morgan’s Infrastructure Investment Fund (IFF) should not be allowed by the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT). Approval hinges upon the sale being in the “public interest” of the citizens it serves. As a part of the IIF, the decisions of EPE will be based upon maximizing value for the holders of the fund rather than the people of West Texas and New Mexico served by EPE.
A publicly owned utility, similar to that of Austin Energy, would make EPE a department held within the City of El Paso. City utility profits, rather than paying shareholder dividends, can be allocated to subsidize solar for low income homeowners, electrify public transportation, and reduce EPE’s reliance on power from natural gas.
JP Morgan, in its Climate Change investment brief, highlights and proposes natural gas plants as a strategy to provide additional electricity during peak summer demand, when temperatures are highest, the A/C is on, and electricity prices spike.
This may be prudent for JP Morgan given its multinational investment portfolio, but the immense solar potential of El Paso makes it the best choice to cool the summer heat. Matching solar energy supply with the high electricity demand and price summer will lower consumer costs and reduce the reliance on natural gas with its health, safety, and climate concerns.
Utilities have long been considered “natural monopolies” where one utility serves a specific area and is regulated by state PUCs to ensure there is no manipulation of price that could harm consumers. The monopolies historically were allowed because it made little sense to spend the high startup costs of building large centralized power plants and transmission infrastructure multiple times.
The decentralized and disrupting force of solar makes the natural monopoly model unnecessary and empowers citizens to produce their own electricity while forwarding notions of equity and environmental justice and reducing the power of corporate utilities. Additionally, solar panel prices have come down significantly in the last decade, now consistently beating new natural gas production in terms of electricity price.
The future of energy production is renewable, locally empowered, decentralized, and disruptive. The sale of EPE to JP Morgan would be step in the wrong direction. A city-owned utility focused on solar production would give a voice to the people of West Texas and Southern New Mexico and best serve the public interest.
Former El Paso resident now living in Austin.
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