Electric utility companies that hope to merge in New Mexico are seeking to keep some documents out of a Public Regulation Commission hearing that starts next week.
The hearing is a sort of trial with a hearing examiner, or quasi-judge, in which testimony is heard and information reviewed pertaining to a proposed merger between Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid of Connecticut, plus and its parent company, Iberdrola of Spain.
The proposed merger has received scrutiny in part over Avangrid subsidiaries’ uneven service record in the Northeast U.S. Also, Iberdrola has acknowledged that Spanish authorities are conducting an investigation that includes two Iberdrola executives among other companies’ managers.
Avangrid said in filings last week with the commission and through a spokeswoman Wednesday it considers a consulting firm’s audit of subsidiary Central Maine Power to be hearsay.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission has not yet acted on the report, Avangrid said. The 150-page audit report was written by Pennsylvania-based Liberty Consulting Group.
“Because the consultant that authored the report is not being made available for cross-examination, the report is hearsay and should not be admitted into evidence,” Avangrid spokeswoman Joanie Griffin wrote in an email.
In the Spanish investigation, Avangrid argued in a commission filing there is no evidence Iberdrola or two of its leaders “are accused of committing a crime, and there is no evidence” they are likely to be charged.
Griffin said New Energy Economy, a critic of the merger, has relied “on news reports in Spain regarding the Spanish investigation,” and those reports shouldn’t be accepted as fact.
“The underlying investigation documents are not available to the public and therefore are not subject to review and verification,” Griffin wrote.
Mariel Nanasi of New Energy Economy contends the audit and the investigation are relevant to the hearing, which starts with public comment on Monday and evidence hearings Aug. 11. The hearing is expected to take more than a week, followed by a recommendation from the hearing examiner to the Public Regulation Commission.
The five-member commission has final say on whether the merger proposal should be approved, although the finding can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
A pre-hearing this week involving hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer and numerous attorneys of interested parties shed little light on the fate of the audit and investigation in the hearing.
Hundreds of documents and written records of testimony already have been filed with the commission, but that doesn’t mean they will be presented as evidence in the hearing.
Peter Gould, attorney for New Mexico AREA, asked Schannauer on Tuesday how the two matters will be handled.
“I’m thinking specifically of the Central Maine Power audit,” Gould, of Santa Fe, said. “There seems to be some issue about that … the same with the translations of the Spanish investigation.”
Schannauer said he has made no rulings. “Nothing’s in the record yet,” he said. “We haven’t started the hearing.”
Schannauer is expected to rule before or early in the hearing.
The merger would cost Avangrid $8.3 billion. Advocates for the proposal say Avangrid’s and Iberdrola’s expertise in renewable energy such as wind would be good for New Mexico.