El Paso Electric no longer burns coal to generate electricity, making it the first electric utility in Texas and New Mexico to reach that mark, according to the El Paso Times.
In July the utility sold its 7% stake in the Four Corners coal plant on the Navajo Reservation near Farmington, New Mexico, which had been its only source of coal-fired power.
- Natural gas-fired generators and solar power has filled in the 5% to 6% of El Paso’s electric needs that the coal plant supplied.
El Paso Electric (EPE) is the first utility in Texas to be coal free. But despite the bragging rights this confers on the utility, renewable resources still play a minor role in the utilities overall generation mix.
Without coal, EPE derives about 66% of its power from gas-fired power, 30% from the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona, and about 4% from solar plants. The utility has also not been eager to encourage residential solar.
On more than one occasion, EPE has sought to raise rates for residential customers with solar power. Last December El Paso's City Council rejected EPE’s proposal to raise rates on a new class of solar customer and impose a demand charge on those customers. A month earlier, New Mexico regulators rejected EPE’s request to impose a monthly charge on solar customers.
EPE’s decision to move away from coal was prompted by economics as much as anything else. Faced with the expiration of its stake in the Four Corners coal plant, the utility did an economic analysis comparing continued coal-fired generation with generation from less-polluting gas-fired generation.
"In the current environment, coal is less economically feasible" than natural gas, which has been declining in price in recent years, and it faces more regulatory uncertainty that gas, EPE CFO Nathan Hirschi told the El Paso Times.