Texas Utility Going Coal-Free, Stepping Up Solar


El Paso Electric Company doubles its utility-scale solar portfolio with large projects in Texas and New Mexico. As if that weren’t enough, the utility also plans to be coal-free by 2016.


El Paso Electric Company (EPE), a Texas-based utility servicing 395,000 customers in both west Texas and southern New Mexico, says it’s well-positioned for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon standards.

In less than one year, the utility has has doubled its utility-scale solar portfolio. And EPE plans to be coal-free by 2016.

El Paso Electric is looking forward to the completion and commercial operations of the 50 MW Macho Springs, the largest solar facility in New Mexico.  An additional 10 MW solar facility, to be completed by the end of 2014, will be the largest in El Paso, Texas. Together, the projects will expand total solar generation to 6% of EPE’s dedicated generation resources.

“Our west Texas and southern New Mexico region has the right kind of sun for optimal solar energy production,” said Tom Shockley, Chief Executive Officer at El Paso Electric. “With over 300 days of sunshine every year, we are in the perfect region for solar energy technologies.”

EPE recently signed a 20-year purchase power agreement (PPA) with Macho Springs Solar, LLC, owned by Southern Company subsidiary Southern Power and Turner Renewable Energy. The facility was built and will be operated by First Solar. The new solar facility, which is about the same size as 300 football fields, will generate enough clean energy to power more than 18,000 homes. This project will also displace more than 40,000 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of taking 7,500 cars off the road. Also important in a dry region, the project will displace more than 340,000 metric tons of water consumption annually in southern New Mexico and west Texas.

“We continue to look for opportunities to add cost-effective solar energy technologies as the price of solar energy becomes more competitive,” adds Shockley. “At the time we signed our agreement with Macho Springs, it was the cheapest price of solar in the market. Our commitment to building a portfolio that includes renewable technologies complements our local, clean burning natural gas units, helping to make overall power in our region more dependable, safer and cleaner.”

Earlier in February 2014, El Paso Electric signed a 30-year PPA with Newman Solar LLC, owned by Colorado-based juwi solar Inc. (JSI), which will build the 10 MW solar energy facility in Northeast El Paso, Texas. The facility is expected to be operational by the end of 2014, powering an additional 3,800 homes.

El Paso Electric has determined that it is in the best interest of its 395,000 customers not to participate in the operation of the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant after the plant’s scheduled retirement in July 2016. EPE, which has a 7% interest in the plant, will continue to work with the 93% owners and the Navajo Nation to facilitate their efforts to extend the operation of the plant beyond 2016. EPE will also continue to pursue a sale of its 7% interest in the plant.