An official with the state Public Regulation Commission has ordered power company Avangrid, which hopes to merge with Public Service Company of New Mexico, to state why it has withheld some information in the case and why it shouldn’t be penalized for this.
The order is part of an ongoing dispute over the degree to which Connecticut-based Avangrid avoided questions about customer service penalties its subsidiaries have faced in the Northeastern U.S.
Critics say the questions are relevant because the performance of Avangrid subsidiaries elsewhere gives an indication of how Avangrid would perform if it purchased PNM. The Santa Fe-based nonprofit New Energy Economy wants the merger applicants to be held in contempt of the discovery process and to reimburse the organization for the expenses it has incurred trying to get answers.
New Energy Economy and the Sierra Club also scored an incremental win Monday when commission hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer ruled questions concerning the role of the Four Corners Power Plant in the merger proposal are relevant.
Schannauer said the merger proposal “provides for PNM to enter into definitive agreements providing for exit from all ownership interests” in the coal-fired Four Corners plant. So questions about that part of the proposal are fair game, the hearing examiner said.
Avangrid and PNM have argued PNM’s abandonment of the Four Corners plant in northwestern New Mexico is a separate matter from the merger proposal.
Schannauer denied the relevance of a second motion Monday in which New Energy Economy and the Sierra Club sought information about seasonal operations at Four Corners.
Schannauer wrote last week in a formal order Avangrid and PNM should respond by June 28 to criticisms that they haven’t been forthcoming in the discovery process, which involves disclosure of information in the case.
A recommendation on whether penalties or sanctions in the matter are necessary is expected from Schannauer in August, followed by a decision from the Public Regulation Commission.
The merger proposal has powerful backing, including from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Hector Balderas. But it has bumped into stiff resistance from Schannauer and some environmental and energy organizations, frequently over the disclosure or lack of disclosure of information during the discovery process.
That process allows interested parties to pose written questions to those involved in the proposed merger and to have reasonable expectations that questions will be answered forthrightly. The fact-finding process makes the Public Regulation Commission’s hearings more efficient by establishing facts in the case beforehand.
PNM on Monday referred questions on the issue to Avangrid. Avangrid said in a statement it was eager to address the matter June 28.
“Avangrid has worked to respond to all discovery requests in a truthful and complete manner,” the company said. “We look forward to addressing the Hearing Examiner’s concerns so we can focus on the substantive benefits of this transaction to New Mexico and PNM customers.”
New Energy Economy has argued Avangrid and PNM didn’t answer many of its questions. The organization, headed by attorney Mariel Nanasi, also said Avangrid without merit contended some requested documents were confidential.
Schannauer also noted that questions he formally posed last month received an incomplete response from Avangrid and PNM. Schannauer wrote that “a number of enforcement measures in the form of fines” against subsidiaries appear to have been omitted by Avangrid.
“An evasive or incomplete answer is treated as a failure to answer” by the Public Regulation Commission, he added.
Some organizations, such as Western Resource Advocates, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment and San Juan Citizens Alliance, have offered their support of the merger proposal.
Nanasi argued Avangrid’s refusal to disclose some information helped PNM and Avangrid lure organizations into the agreement. Had some of them known about Avangrid subsidiaries’ litany of penalties, she said, they might not have blessed the proposal.