The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission will decide Wednesday whether it’s the right agency, as suggested by 16 state lawmakers, to study revamping the way electricity is distributed in the state.

The legislators last month signed a petition asking the commission to conduct or oversee a study of the pros and cons of publicly owned electric power. The commission unanimously agreed this week to hear out their rationale.

The proposed study stems from concern here and elsewhere over whether investor-owned utility companies, many of which have virtual monopolies in the regions they serve, represent the best way to distribute electricity. The investor-owned electric companies operating in New Mexico are Public Service Company of New Mexico, El Paso Electric and Southwestern Public Service.

A spokesman for PNM wrote in an email his company wouldn’t “take a position before the study advocates have the opportunity to make their presentation and share their goals and objectives on such an important topic that impacts all New Mexicans.”

El Paso Electric said in a statement it is “committed to participating and working with our New Mexico state leaders by providing the accurate information needed to reach a carbon neutral future that we all desire.”

A longtime critic of investor-owned PNM helped the legislators draft their petition. “I’m a lawyer, and I filed the paperwork,” said the critic, New Energy Economy leader Mariel Nanasi of Santa Fe.

Nanasi said climate change, the advancement of renewable energy, questions about corporate control and electricity rate hikes have compelled many places to consider whether there is a better alternative to investor-owned utilities.

“I think that question is being asked all across the United States right now,” Nanasi said.

State Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, said she would like a study to point out the challenges that would have to be overcome to adopt publicly controlled electricity in the state.

“So it’s exploratory,” Stefanics said. “It’s not set up to put anybody out of business.”

Stefanics, who signed the petition, said she will not speak to the commission Wednesday because she has another speaking engagement, but other members of the Legislature will address the panel.

The petition says 1 in 7 Americans already is served by a public utility, and 10 percent of electricity in the country comes from public power facilities.

It says forms of public power are found in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. Other states that have studied or intend to study the benefits of public power include Colorado, Connecticut and New Hampshire. In Maine, some residents are collecting signatures in hopes of putting the matter on the state ballot this year.

New Mexico already has some communities with forms of public power, including Farmington and Raton.

Nanasi said there are multiple forms of publicly owned electric utilities, including municipal and tribal utilities, state-owned and various hybrids. Ultimately, publicly owned utilities don’t have to satisfy investors or Wall Street, she said, and can focus on renewable energy, innovation, reliable service and keeping electric rates reasonable.

“For those reasons alone, it’s worth studying,” she said late this week.

PNM failed to convince the Public Regulation Commission in December it should merge with Avangrid of Connecticut and Iberdrola of Spain. PNM and the two companies contended the New Mexico institution needed the backing of the giant companies for financing and access to innovation.

The commission rejected the merger proposal, a decision the applicants have appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Some members of the Public Regulation Commission said this week they weren’t sure they were the appropriate agency to conduct the study sought by the legislators.

They also said they didn’t have the budget or staff to do the study. Ultimately, the commissioners and one of their lawyers, Russell Fisk, said the Legislature would have to act on a change of the system of providing electricity throughout the state.

Fisk said: “I think at the outset that the commission should know that this is not an area where the commission has jurisdiction. It’s an area for new legislation.”

But commissioners said the legislators might find a source of money for a consulting firm that could commit the time to the research. And the commission might well be the right place to shepherd such a study, some commissioners said. They unanimously approved a decision to hear the legislators’ proposal.

“So I’m all ears right now,” Commission Chairman Joseph Maestas of Santa Fe said. “I think this is a concept or model that clearly is going to require a significant amount of legislative effort.”

Stefanics said she believed money could be found for a study from a foundation, a think tank or local governments with interest in the topic.

Commissioner Cynthia Hall of Albuquerque said the PRC could oversee the study with financial support.

“And hopefully they’ll be able to fund it,” she said, referring to lawmakers.

Commissioner Stephen Fischmann said if his agency had a role in the study, it would be a conflict of interest to produce a report that patently supported public power. Promoting the concept would be up to the Legislature, he said, not the commission.

(11) comments

Bill Slettom

The City of Truth or Consequences does a fine job of delivering electricity to the residents. I believe Farmington also has a municipal electric utility.

87,000 families and businesses in New Mexico are served through 15 rural electric cooperatives, which are owned by those same people, not outside investors.

So if the point of this study is to look at alternatives to the ownership of distribution of electricity, the model is already there and working very, very well.

Joe Brownrigg

Thank you, Bill!

jarratt applewhite

The Legislature has woefully underfunded this very important agency. Now it wants it to oversee a pivotal study -- it doesn't even have enough staff to do what's already on its plate.

We have an opportunity to transform our State's economy, weaning it from legacy oil, gas & mining inputs to our permanent fund and replacing that Permanent Fund revenue stream by harnessing our amazing renewable resources. If the PRC had more resources, might it be able to lead unto a bright future?

It's shameful that instead of seizing the opportunity arising from the imperative to decarbonize our pols want to shield the public from the work of the PRC.

I don't know enough about public ownership of utilities to have a confident opinion. That's why this study is smart. I thought Art Sanchez's Initiative to put our waterworks in the City's hands was wrong -- that a private company could do better. I was wrong. Having those assets managed for the public good without having to generate investors returns has worked out very well.

Mike Johnson

It sounds like those asking the question already have an answer they want here. Why waste this PRC's time and energies with a foregone conclusion the left wing in charge wants to see happen? They can wait a year or so and have their own partisan political left wing stooges in place to give them what they want, who needs a "study"?

John McDivitt

[ohmy] As Richared pointed out... what could POSSIBLY go wrong?! How about competition instead?

Richard Reinders

New Mexico has shown over and over again their inability to oversee anything, like Workforce Solution had millions and millions scammed from them in false claims, APD had a major kick back scam right under their noses with State Representative Williams Stapleton, Tax and Revenue just had some one scam $691,000 from them, Padilla head of Tax and Revenue indicted for theft. And most departments stopped using the bid system to provide products and services to NM and went to single vendor, claiming Covid as an excuse. I could go on but you get the points. Over sight is not New Mexico's strong point. They are not who I would want in charge of my electricity.

Michael Smith

Investor-owned utilities exist to enrich corporate executives, provide return on investment to stockholders and they export profits paid by New Mexicans out of state. These corporations are not interested in the welfare of New Mexico. As monopolies, they exist as a potential asset for sale to corporations outside the USA; like Avangrid.

Your judgment of New Mexico's political corruption, and the criminal consequences of crooked conduct, has skewed your perception of the potential benefits of the state developing a public power utility model utilizing renewable energy resources, creating new jobs with good pay and benefits with the profits/proceeds of a public power enterprise enhancing our own economy in this state.

The proposed study will reveal more details exploring a public power utility. Glad to know your bias isn't shared by legislators who are willing to consider an opportunity that might benefit New Mexico voters rather than corporate profiteers in other states and/or countries.

Joe Brownrigg

This is the only comment (so far) that deals with the issue, rather than the promotion of an anti-present-government ideology.

I've lived with publicly-owned electricity. It works. It's cheaper by 40%. It's responsive to climate change. It's responsive to the needs of the users.

The only issue is how to structure it. The PRC could do this better than the Legislature. It would require additional funding.

Climate change is here Now. Extortion by corporations is here Now. So, why wait any longer?

Richard Reinders

Michael, no disrespect but if these problems with oversight and corruption was just a post covid problem I would agree with you but I am basing my concern from watching these problems for 38 years and it hasn’t got better no matter who is in control. New Mexico politician will figure a way to pick its pockets. PNM is capable of building and adding solar and wind to the grid and has a responsibility to do so.

Mike Johnson


Philip Taccetta

Finally, a solution that’s good for New Mexicans!

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