El Paso Electric Files EV Plan With New Mexico Regulators
February 1st, 2021 by Jennifer Sensiba
A few weeks ago, we missed an important story from El Paso Electric, that, on the surface at least, didn’t seem like a big deal. The company announced that it filed a Transportation Electrification Plan (TEP) with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (NM PRC). Inside of the press release were several interesting items.
Before we get into what it is doing and why it’s important, we need to cover some background information. The big question some readers are probably asking: El Paso is in Texas, so why are they filing something with a New Mexico regulator?
El Paso is at the far west edge of Texas. It’s got New Mexico to the north and to the west, as New Mexico is molded around the shape of Texas. To the south is Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. In other words, the city is mostly surrounded by places that aren’t in Texas.
For those unfamiliar with El Paso and southern New Mexico, El Paso Electric provides electricity to a lot more than just El Paso, Texas. In Texas, it provides electricity to the smaller towns southeast of El Paso along the Rio Grande valley, and also supplies the towns of Sierra Blanca and Van Horn along I-10. Also, there are some smaller cities northwest of El Paso, sandwiched between El Paso and the state line with New Mexico, like Vinton, Anthony, and Canutillo.
In New Mexico, it provides power for Sunland Park, Santa Teresa, Chaparral, the other unincorporated areas of Doña Ana County, as well as Las Cruces (the second largest city in New Mexico), and the village of Hatch. On top of all that, it supplies power for local military installations, including White Sands Missile Range, parts of Fort Bliss, and Holloman Air Force Base. White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss are the Army’s two largest installations in the United States.
In other words, that’s quite a large service area that serves a lot of different users. El Paso itself is most of the population in the area (not counting Juarez, Chihuahua, which dwarfs El Paso, but El Paso Electric doesn’t have customers outside of the US), but by land area, there’s probably more served territory in New Mexico.
Just for fun, here’s a quick video of construction at one of the company’s power plants in El Paso. I was hired to get aerial shots and timelapse footage when a new power plant needed an evaporation pond.
It should also be pointed out that El Paso and Southern New Mexico are way behind when it comes to EV charging infrastructure and adoption of EVs. Tesla has a supercharger in west El Paso and a few destination chargers, but until about a year and a half ago, there were no DC fast charging stations for other vehicles within hundreds of miles. Before Electrify America put stations in along I-10, the nearest DCFC stations were in Tucson, Albuquerque, and Dallas. Even now, the area only has Electrify America’s stations, plus one station at a dealer for Jaguar vehicles only.
What El Paso Electric Is Doing
The company announced several important things with its filing.
Perhaps most importantly, New Mexico customers will start having access to EV rate plans with cheaper charging during off-peak hours. This means that customers can sign up for special pricing that allows them to get lower rates in the middle of the night, when the utility has lots of extra generating capacity. By incentivizing EV owners to do their charging at those times, the utility will struggle less to provide power as more people buy EVs.
Environmentally, off-peak charging is a bad thing in many areas because the baseload generation is done with coal, but that’s not so much the case with El Paso Electric. The company’s own power plants are all natural gas, except for its part ownership of Palo Verde, a nuclear power plant near Phoenix, Arizona. Most coal generation EPE was involved with are now shut down. Thus, at night, EV charging would almost all come from natural gas and nuclear power.
Another thing the company will be doing is outreach. It wants to let the people in the area know that EVs are an option, and that there are benefits to EV ownership. There are a growing number of EV owners in the area, but we are still a very small minority of cars. Driving around, it’s not terribly common to encounter another EV, including Teslas. According to Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico, the whole state has only 2,888 EVs.
New Mexico statistics, as of today:
✅ Total # NM vehicles registered: 2,330,287
✅ Total # battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), any make: 2,888
✅ Total # of Tesla vehicles = 1,363 (47% of all NM BEVs)
Imagine how even ONE Tesla store in-state would explode that 1363 figure!
— Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico (@TeslaOwnersNM) January 26, 2021
Just a little bit of outreach would also likely help this number go up quite a bit, but EPE is also looking at doing some rebate programs for charging infrastructure, both for residential and commercial customers. It didn’t give much information, but this likely is going to be rebates for home EVSEs and both workplace and parking lot charging for businesses.
El Paso does have quite a bit more level 2 public charging compared to DC fast chargers, but it still has some pretty big dead zones, especially in the Northeast and Far East parts of the city.
The New Mexico part of the service area definitely could use a lot more help, though.
As you can see, the service area in New Mexico is pretty barren, even for level 2. There are a few stations in Las Cruces, NM. Two are hosted by the City of Las Cruces, two are hosted by businesses, and one is provided by a cool homeowner in Mesilla, NM. The lack of chargers is especially bad when you consider that there is no DC fast charging for non-Tesla owners between Las Cruces and Albuquerque, and only a level 2 station in Socorro. For someone to take a Chevy Bolt or Nissan LEAF up to Albuquerque, they need to stop at RV parks and wait for hours.
I hope that we can get more level 2 charging all over the area, but I also hope that the rebate program helps at least a few businesses put in some DCFC stations. Probably the best way to get this right would be to work with the Pic Quik stores to install stations in Anthony, Las Cruces, and Hatch.
Another element of the plan is a study of the utility’s grid to make sure it’s up to snuff for the expected future influx of EV owners. Right now there aren’t too many of us, and if we can charge at night, that’s going to help a lot. Get enough new owners, and there could be problems, so it’s definitely a good idea for them to check on that.
The company is excited about the plan, too.
“The filing of our Transportation Electrification Plan is another example of how we are transforming the energy landscape to meet the evolving needs of our customers in a safe, reliable and sustainable way,” shares EPE CEO Kelly A. Tomblin. “We are excited to work with the NMPRC Staff and Stakeholders as we move through the approval process to deliver the services our customers expect and deserve. Our plan will allow us to provide new incentives and benefits that will help support the electrification transportation evolution that is occurring for the benefit of both our customers and a cleaner environment.”
The only downside is how long this is going to all take. It filed the plan just before New Years, and expects NM PRC to respond by the second quarter. The plan itself can’t go into effect until the third quarter of 2021. The bureaucracy in New Mexico needs to get a move on.
The EV infrastructure in EPE’s service area needs a lot of work, so the company has quite a challenge ahead of them. It is good to see that it is making a real plan to make it happen. Hopefully our area, with its abundant sunshine, becomes a good example of EV success in the next few years.
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