El Paso Electric Interview: Summer 2019, Energy Efficiency, and Meeting Future Demand
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- Oct 25, 2019 3:15 pm GMTOct 25, 2019 3:18 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-10 - Energy Efficiency, click here for more
I thought the summer would never end this year in El Paso, Texas. I was wrong, of course, fall is here and those 100 plus days shouldn’t be returning until June. With the region’s most grid-challenging season over, I thought I’d reach out to our utility, El Paso Electric (EPE), to find out how we made it through without any blackouts and what the future holds in this ever hotter, ever more populated desert region.
George De La Torre, the utility’s Manager of Strategic Communications and Community Engagement, got back to me with some interesting info on the company and El Paso’s energy needs, and was quick to answer my follow up questions. From the information he sent me, it was made clear how much work EPE has had the past 20 years and will continue to have moving forward. As the region has grown substantially, refrigerated air has largely replaced swamp coolers and summers have continued to get hotter, peak demand in the summers continues to climb. This past summer was no exception to the trend: On August 26th, a new record was set, beating out the previous high from June 2017 by 50 megawatts.
In addition to a number of energy cutting initiatives, EPE plans to meet growing demand with more generation, having recently released the results of an RFP for new generation to be completed by 2022-23. What’s more, they have a new RFP for an advanced metering system, the bidder to be selected by April of next year.
Henry: In the energy savings run-down you sent me, you highlight the importance of consumer efforts to cut down. Why do you think it’s so common for customers to overlook potential savings on the electricity bill?
EPE: We find that customers may not understand the savings potential that is available or how the reduction in energy will actually lower bills. Potential savings from energy efficiency come in a variety of ways such as making improvements to your home, air and duct sealing, and upgrading old appliances. There are also changes in behavior that you can make such as turning off lights and unplugging electronics. However, since customers only have access to their usage once a month, it is harder to make those changes in real time and customers feel like their change in behavior may be too late. Although we still will need regulatory approval, we have issued a request for proposal for advanced metering infrastructure or smart meters that would provide our customers with more control of their bills through more frequent and timely electric usage information – in some cases 15 minute increments.
Henry: How does EPE go about educating consumers on potential savings and related programs?
EPE: EPE provides energy efficiency presentations and materials to our customers and community partners, both in Texas and New Mexico. We collaborate with local health agencies and community resource centers, neighborhood and civil associations, local contractors and other utilities. EPE provides energy-saving tips and other EPE program information. We also use EPE bill inserts, newsletters, and social media to help educate our customers.
Henry: In that same information packet, it’s recommended that customers keep their thermostats at 78 or higher in the summer and 68 or lower in the winter. Maybe I just hangout with very high maintenance people, but I don’t know anyone who keeps their thermostats anywhere close to those marks. Do you think people’s temperature preferences could be changed? How?
EPE: Your home's ideal temperature for your heating and cooling system should provide convenience and comfort. The closer your thermostat setting is to the outside temperature, the more you'll save. You should also consider adjusting the thermostat anytime your house is vacant for four or more hours per day. By installing a programmable thermostat it’s easy to set your home's temperature lower while you are asleep or during the day when you are at work. The 78 degree recommendation is for when you are going to be away for several hours.
Henry: EPE recently released the results of the RFP for new generation for 2022-2023. What drove the company to seek new generation? How did they decide on the generation slew that they did?
EPE: El Paso Electric (EPE) identified a need for new capacity and generation through its annual planning process. Our most recent forecast showed that EPE would need additional capacity by 2022 and that capacity need would increase in the following years. These new resources will replace older, less efficient generating units that have reached their useful lifecycle. The new generation was selected through a competitive all resource request for proposal. EPE undertook a consistent multi-stage evaluation process leading up to selection of the preferred resources.
Henry: Peak demand has increased in El Paso for a while now, setting a new record this past August. How does EPE keep up? Do you think it will continue to increase? Do energy savings programs play a big role?
EPE: Typical factors that continue to lead to new peak demands are gradual annual increases in the number of customers we serve (on average we see an annual increase of 1.7%), conversions to refrigerated air conditioning, as well as increasingly sustained hot weather. A new annual peak has been set by EPE customers in 17 out of the last 19 years and we expect that trend to continue. As a heavily regulated utility, we have an obligation to serve and we are prepared to meet these growing energy needs. We have an entire department dedicated to load forecasting and they primarily analyze data and trends to ensure our generation planning into the future continues to meets our customers’ demand.
If your home or business is more energy-efficient, then you use less electricity which means less greenhouse gas is contributing to climate change. Lower electricity demand in turn avoids the cost of building new generators and transmission lines, saves customers money, and lowers pollution from electric generators.
Well there you have it folks, EPE, and all Texas for that matter, got through a blistering summer without having to cut the lights. Moving forward, EPE believes a combination of new generation and energy effiecncy will allow for continued success. Let's hope they're right.