With their proposed merger apparently in jeopardy, Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid want to speak directly to the Public Regulation Commission.
The two electricity companies that hope to merge in New Mexico say they want to give “oral arguments” to the five-member Public Regulation Commission in the near future to make clear the benefits of the merger. Five organizations with interest in the merger joined PNM, Avangrid of Connecticut and Iberdrola of Spain, Avangrid’s parent company, in the request filed Friday.
Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM Resources president and CEO, said in a written statement proponents want to make it clear why they think the merger is in the public’s best interest.
Vincent-Collawn said if the parties “have an opportunity to answer the commissioners’ questions directly, we will be able to address any remaining issues head on and continue to provide the full transparency that this process requires.”
PNM’s and Avangrid’s request noted the deadline has passed for requesting oral arguments, but the companies said the commission still may allow them if they would assist the PRC in deliberations.
A commissioner said Monday requests for oral arguments are rare but can be made under PRC rules.
“I can remember one or two instances in my five years when we had oral arguments,” Commissioner Cynthia Hall of Albuquerque said. Hall also has experience as a PRC attorney.
Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann of Las Cruces said this is “not the norm, but it’s certainly within their rights to make this kind of request.”
Fischmann said the commissioners likely will vote at a commission meeting Wednesday on whether to open the case to oral arguments.
Doing so would prolong a decision on the merger plan because they would expect to open oral arguments from other organizations that are both for and against the proposal, Fischmann and Hall said.
The effort at a merger has been going on for a year and has included thousands of pages of testimony and reports and a seven-day public hearing in August.
The companies and groups said in a formal filing with the commission this month key questions must be fully addressed.
“At its core, this case involves the question of whether it is in the public interest” for the merger to take place, the request said. But the issues are complex, as are the regulatory issues, the document added.
“Frankly, we’ve got them all down in writing at this point,” Fischmann said Monday of the issues.
To launch another dive into the details could “create confusion rather than clarity,” he said.
“It’s not the typical procedure,” he said. “Obviously, we’re going to give it consideration.”
Hall said she has read the pleadings in the case and understands them. She also said the commission has other cases to deal with this month and a full schedule as the year ends.
The agenda Wednesday includes what is expected to be a long discussion on PNM’s proposal to leave the Four Corners Power Plant. But Hall said staying on schedule doesn’t weigh more heavily than parties’ right to make their points clear.
PNM’s and Avangrid’s merger request has run into a series of difficulties. One is a hearing examiner’s scalding, 445-page report on the plan and his recommendation that it not be approved. A hearing examiner serves as a quasi-judge in the commission’s deliberations, but the final decision rests with the five-member commission.
Regardless of what the commission decides, the issue can be appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Another challenge for the merger applicants is the fact that three of the five commissioners said last week they didn’t think they could support the proposal. Among other issues, Avangrid subsidiaries’ service in the Northeast has been criticized. Further, Iberdrola’s chief executive officer is under investigation by Spanish authorities.
A lawsuit filed last week in New York against Avangrid and Iberdrola could add more fuel, though Avangrid has promptly countersued. The initial lawsuit, filed by Pennsylvania cybersecurity company Security Limits Inc. , alleged Avangrid and Iberdrola rigged bids and stole the cybersecurity company’s intellectual property.
In its countersuit, Avangrid contends Security Limits and its owner, Paulo Silva, tried to extort Avangrid by threatening the company with public criticism if Avangrid didn’t give it a new contract. Avangrid also accused the company of defamation in the countersuit, filed Saturday.
PNM, Avangrid and Iberdrola have pledged to give customers $67 million in rate credits and have offered the state economic development contributions. They have also promised to create 150 jobs, forgive some customers’ debts to PNM and made numerous other pledges — helping raise the total, they say, to about $300 million in benefits.