Questions in a recent merger proposal hearing that included whether board members might someday hail from Syria or Russia offended the Public Service Company of New Mexico's chief executive.

Pat Vincent-Collawn, president and CEO of the Public Service Company of New Mexico, said she found some comments made during the hearing earlier this month about the proposed merger with Avangrid and Iberdrola inappropriate.

"I was stunned by some of the remarks that I would call racist," Vincent-Collawn said Tuesday in a meeting with The New Mexican. "I was embarrassed. … I was offended." 

She later softened her stance. "I can't get into anybody's mind," she said. "I don't ascribe any motive." 

A few hours after the meeting, PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval wrote in an email Vincent-Collawn's comments reflected her own opinion and were not an official position.

Executives of PNM and Iberdrola, of Spain, said Tuesday they generally were pleased with the hearing and expressed confidence the Public Regulation Commission would approve the merger. If that fails, Vincent-Collawn said, the matter probably would be taken to the state Supreme Court, but she added that would be Avangrid's decision.

The merger proposal has run into a variety of thickets. Among those have been questions about an Avangrid subsidiary's service record in Maine, an investigation involving Iberdrola executives in Spain and several other items.

But Vincent-Collawn said the three companies — Iberdrola is Connecticut-based Avangrid's parent company — made a strong case for the customer benefits of the proposal. Those include $67 million in customer rate credits, 150 jobs and other incentives.

"Those are direct customer benefits," she said. "I would be surprised if the commission says no given all the protections" for reliability. 

The seven-day hearing, overseen by Public Regulation Commission hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer, covered an array of topics raised by attorneys for organizations of numerous interested parties. Schannauer will make a recommendation to the commission about the merger proposal.

Attorney Jeff Albright of Albuquerque, representing Bernalillo County, two weeks ago asked Iberdrola and Avangrid executives about how the proposed utility company's board would be selected if the merger took place.

Pedro Azagra Blázquez, Iberdrola's chief development officer, said the board would be made up entirely of New Mexico residents. Don Tarry, a PNM executive who will replace Vincent-Collawn at the top if the merger takes place, made the same observation.

Albright asked Blázquez and Avangrid President Robert Kump during the hearing if those might be New Mexico newcomers from Syria, Russia, Qatar, Spain or Afghanistan. Blázquez said he didn't think that was realistic.

Albright couldn't be reached Tuesday afternoon by email or telephone.

Blázquez and Kump have pledged various incentives, including specific reliability provisions and penalty formulas. They also increased their state economic development contributions to $25 million over 10 years compared to $15 million over five years; and $10 million for customers behind in their payments, up from $6 million.

Vincent-Collawn said the PNM board knew a few years ago that the company needed lower capital costs and stronger technological expertise. PNM is big in New Mexico, she said, but comparatively small as a utility firm.

The size of Avangrid and Iberdrola is appealing, she said, because the companies have a huge balance sheet and excellent access to capital.

She joked about PNM's relationship with the two giant utility companies. Some people call those companies "big brother," she said. "I say, 'rich boyfriend.' " Iberdrola is often referred to as the world's third-largest electric utility company.

Blázquez, who also is on Avangrid's board, presented Iberdrola as long committed to clean energy as opposed to polluting energy sources.

He said Tuesday Iberdrola has a history of "fighting against coal, fighting against gas" when other utility companies weren't. "We're very comfortable with what we have done," he said.

Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power has been criticized by some in that state who have proposed to replace the electric companies there with a consumer-owned company.

Blázquez said the problems at Central Maine Power are attributable to a billing system put in place a few years ago. That has been corrected, he said.

As for the investigation in Spain of two Iberdrola leaders, Blázquez said he was confident nothing would come of it.

"Anybody can request an investigation," he said. "It's very common in Spain."

He said Iberdrola has done two internal analyses and brought in two outside companies to review the matter. They concluded they don't expect any problem for Iberdrola, he said, adding that is his view as well.

(14) comments

Mark Paris

Another wildly overpaid ($5 mill/year) member of the ownership class, disconnected from and dismissive of regular folks lives and concerns. Looking for another payout:

Kiki Martinez

I agree - this deal sounds shady and not good for NM residents. I do believe there are people who will benefit greatly from this merger $$$$ and more than likely that will include members of the Corporation Commission, that Commission has never had a very good reputation and most times when issues like this come before the Commission they are usually approved (just like this one will be because what's good for the people never really comes first). Sadly New Mexico has become a hot spot for "investors" who see dollar signs and recognize the ultra poor leadership in our state, counties, and cities who are willing to approve anything and everything to line their pockets instead of do what's good or right for the people. With the push for "infrastructure" and "globalization" I don't see anything racist about the question talked about here - why shouldn't we be able to know who all could possibly be involved in this merger?

Mariel Nanasi

Collawn: "Some people call those companies "big brother," she said. "I say, 'rich boyfriend." Her analogy holds because Iberdrola wants to (four letter word) us

Curtis Brookover

Makes you wonder why we abandoned Nuclear 21st century energy- oh that's right the democrats.

Floyd Cable

What a bogus response from Pat Vincent-Collawn. One hopes that all who hear/read her comments recognize it for the attempted deflection that it is. She stands to get an obscenely big payout if she and the rest of the players involved are successful in selling the public interest down the river. She is trying to deflect attention from a deal that smells like a garbage dump on a hot August afternoon. And, by the way, Ms. Vincent-Collawn, selling a public utility to a foreign-owned and controlled, profit-focused entity can be hugely problematic. Just ask the people of Maine how badly their deal with Avangrid has gone for them, which includes unreliable service and increasing rates. By the way, Ms. Vincent-Collawn should be very, very ashamed of herself for trying to use claims of racism to advance her own financial gain. That is an insult to those who do suffer from and attempt to combat racism in these especially fraught times.

Mike Johnson

Oh so Pat is "offended". I bet she will not be "offended" when she gets the multi-million $$ payout for shoving this ill-advised and egregious merger down the NM consumers' throats. And of course when anyone plays the race card so quickly, they have lost the debate and have no cogent arguments left.

Andrew Lucero

Frankly, I’m offended by this proposed merger. I don’t care how many slick television ads or community events PNM, Avangrid and Iberdrola sponsor in order to sway public opinion, it’s all smoke and mirrors to hide the lie. This merger will never be good for us. It’s only good for a few corporate fat cats, who will fleece us and our resources. This is Enron 2.0….

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that globalization is not all that it’s cracked up to be. We need to be much more self-sufficient. We cannot rely on foreign entities or the global supply chain to provide us with the critical materials we need during a time of national or even international emergency. Energy is the backbone of our infrastructure and economy. So common sense, not xenophobia should dictate that no foreign entity should have any influence whatsoever on our energy supply grid. These are our precious resources and it is in the best interest of the citizens of New Mexico that we hold onto them and not allow this merger go through.

Lynn k Allen

Right on 👍

Lupe Molina

Ehh, racist seems a bit much. Its not crazy to be concerned that foreign interests might have an undue influence on energy infrastructure after we've been bent over OPECs barrels for more than half a century.

But I also don't think anything about this deal smells especially rotten. Maybe it should even serve as a lesson to us. While we quibble over details in out fair city (like in the case of midtown campus) it makes room for big multinational companies to come in and pay enough that we all get boxed out of having a say.

Charles W Rodriguez

Something stinks about this deal. Someone is getting $$$ out of this, while NM customers are paying the bill.

Richard Reinders

This deal doesn't feel right, why are they throwing so much money around a form of bribery. If they approve the merger New Mexico residents should make 20% of all electricity sold out of state credited to their bill they want our land resources and location to sell to Mexico, California and Arizona, that will be a lot of wind generators and solar arrays dotting our beautiful landscape. These structure change migration patterns of wildlife and generate heat. You need to research the negatives of this much solar. There should be a cost to this kind of business.

Diane Gonzales

Good points to bring up. I also wonder why Pat Vincent-Collawn feels the need to defend Avangrid. Could be the $19,040,958 payout she will get should the merger go through.

Richard Reinders

Ding Ding Ding

Lynn k Allen

True! 👍

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