El Paso Electric on Monday set an all-time record for power demand amid what could become the hottest month ever recorded in the Borderland, where temperatures have topped 100 degrees for 35 days straight as of Thursday – also a record.
After El Paso this year saw the latest arrival of triple-digit temperatures in any year since 2015, unrelenting heat has taken hold across the region since mid-June. Average temperatures in El Paso so far this month have been over seven degrees hotter than what the city normally experiences in July.
The temperature at El Paso International Airport hit 111 degrees Wednesday afternoon, the hottest temperature ever recorded in El Paso on July 19. The previous high temperature for that day came a year ago, when it was 107 degrees out.
And it’s not just El Paso that’s enduring an especially scorching summer. The effects of climate change have become more apparent after last month was the hottest June on record across the globe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“As carbon pollution traps more heat in Earth’s atmosphere, the summer season is warming, summer temperatures are arriving earlier in the year, and risky heat extremes are becoming more frequent,” wrote scientists with Climate Central, a nonprofit research organization studying climate change.
El Paso so far in July has experienced average daily high temperatures of 106 degrees. The normal peak temperature on a July day in El Paso is 96 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. “Normal” temperatures refer to the average temperatures recorded from 1991 through 2020.
And temperatures aren’t falling each day as much as in the past – requiring households to run air conditioning more overnight. The lowest that temperatures have gotten each day this month on average is 78 degrees, five degrees warmer than normal low temps in July.
Amid the record heat, air conditioners have been running hard to cool households across the El Paso region, driving up electricity usage to an all-time high this month. EPE set an official record for peak power demand on July 10, when homes and businesses in the utility’s service area – which spans from Hatch, New Mexico, to Van Horn, Texas – drove demand for power to 2,279 megawatts between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. that day.
On Monday, EPE set an unofficial peak demand record of about 2,301 megawatts. In 2022, El Paso Electric’s peak demand was 2,201 megawatts. One megawatt is roughly enough to power 200 Texas homes on a hot summer day.
And the power grid that covers most of Texas outside of El Paso also saw record-setting demand for electricity this week as searing heat set in across much of the state.
“These climate and weather impacts are real,” said Jessica Christianson, vice president of sustainability and energy solutions with El Paso Electric. “While (the triple-digit heat) seems extreme, it’s probably unfortunately going to be normalized in the future.”
El Paso Electric estimates years in advance how much energy it will need during the hottest time of every year, and it expects to have to generate more electricity each year as the El Paso region’s population grows.
Even so, the abnormally hot weather this year has created higher demand for power than EPE anticipated. When El Paso Electric in 2021 estimated energy demand through 2040, it thought that demand this summer would top out just shy of 2,200 megawatts. EPE didn’t expect its peak demand to break 2,300 megawatts until 2029.
El Paso Electric is building a new power plant in far Northeast El Paso – which is expected to start generating power later this year – and plans to add several solar farms by 2025 so it can handle swiftly-rising electricity demand during increasingly hot summers.
“This demand is growing and growing,” Christianson said. “And so we need to continue to find ways to add these resources as expeditiously as we can.”
She said all of EPE’s power plants are continuing to operate through this heatwave, although the heat can damage equipment, such as a distribution transformer, which could cause brief local power outages.
“We’re running really well,” Christianson said. “As evidenced by the fact that we haven’t really had to take any long outages.”
Despite some recent showers, El Paso has also experienced a relatively dry summer. In June, the city received the smallest amount of rainfall in any June since 2014 – just 0.03 inches, compared with the typical June precipitation of about three-quarters of an inch.
So far in July, the Borderland has received 0.3 inches of rain – a fraction of the usual 0.95 inches of rainfall the city usually experiences by July 20.
The streak of triple-digit temperatures could break over the weekend, however. Forecasts from the National Weather Service suggest temperatures on Saturday and Sunday could top out in the high 90s. And there’s a 24 percent chance of rain Friday night, followed by an 18 percent chance of rain on Saturday night, according to the NWS.
But the forecast also indicates El Paso will resume triple digit highs again on Monday.
Further out, the NWS said there’s a 60 percent chance that El Paso and much of the Southwestern U.S. will continue to experience excessive heat at least through early August.