By Breanne Deppisch
Voters in El Paso, Texas, will head to the ballot box next month to vote on “Proposition K,” a climate change charter that would set aggressive new targets for renewable energy growth while cutting back on fossil fuels.
The proposed charter pits climate activists — in particular, the left-wing Sunrise Movement — against business and industry groups.
It also could serve as a test case for voter interest across the country in ambitious and strict climate goals of the kind also pursued nationally by the Biden administration. El Paso would be embracing the elimination of fossil fuels at the same time that Republicans try to boost natural gas over renewable energy at the state level.
The proposal would require El Paso to create and run a citywide climate department, which would be tasked with preparing an annual climate mitigation, preparedness, and response plan, and transition its city-owned facilities to renewable energy.
It calls for El Paso to use “all available efforts” to convert its energy utility, El Paso Electric, to municipal ownership.
But the most contentious provision is the charter’s proposed renewable energy goals, which would be for energy used by the city to be 80% from “clean renewable energy” by 2030 and 100% by 2045.
That provision has generated backlash from local business groups — namely, the El Paso Chamber, which has led the push against the measure.
Chamber officials commissioned a study earlier this year from the Points Consulting group, which projected devastating economic losses and job cuts as a result of Prop K.
It said the charter would slash El Paso’s economy by 41% and cause the city to lose 72% of its energy supply by 2045.
Chamber officials described the plan earlier this month as “rushed” and “unrealistic.”
They also noted that Proposition K is the second climate proposal to be brought to the ballot in El Paso in less than a year.
Last fall, voters approved “Proposition C,” a separate ballot measure requiring the city to set certain renewable energy targets and to create a citywide action plan on climate, following a 12-18 month period of review.
In passing Proposition C, voters also allocated more than $5 million in taxpayer funds to help combat climate change — something opponents of the latest charter have cited in opposing the new push.
But those who support Proposition K say the goals for renewable energy are simply guideposts to encourage renewable growth, not bans or calls to cut existing sources of generation.
Activists also said that Prop K only requires city-owned buildings to convert to renewable energy power, not private residences.
They’ve also disputed the idea that the charter would kill jobs or cause a massive energy shortfall.
The Austin-based IdeaSmiths consultancy group published a report this month saying that the Points Consulting report relied on the assumption that the city would not import any energy from other utilities in or around Texas in the event of a shortfall and would not add any renewable sources to its grid before 2045 — two factors that, together, accounted for the drastic drop in economic growth, jobs, and energy in its findings.
“The assumption that El Paso loses most of its energy supply — and does not replace it — is fundamentally flawed from a technological, economic, and policy standpoint,” IdeaSmiths said.