What started as a meeting to schedule dates for deliberations in the proposed Avangrid-PNM merger turned into a rebuke by a state Public Regulation Commission hearing examiner.

Ashley Schannauer ordered Avangrid, a Connecticut-based utility company, to disclose information about service problems and penalties its subsidiaries have faced on the East Coast, adding Avangrid has failed to be forthcoming about those problems and penalties.

He issued a written order for the Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid to file more information by May 18. Interested parties must respond by May 25 and the status conference that was to be held Tuesday was reset for May 28.

A hearing examiner is a form of judge employed by the Public Regulation Commission to offer recommendations. The commission is largely called upon to consider whether such a merger provides a net benefit to customers and the public.

Avangrid attorney Brian Haverly of Albuquerque at one point Tuesday morning told Schannauer he was confident there would be a satisfactory outcome.

"I am sure we will work through this," Haverly said. "And I have nothing to hide about it."

But Schannauer wasted no time during the meeting in airing his dismay over the thin amount of disclosure offered by Avangrid. He cited for the Zoom meeting of about 25 attorneys representing clients with interest in the case that he had come across a total of $25 million in penalties for poor service against Avangrid subsidiaries over a 16-month period.

That includes a $2.1 million fine issued against a subsidiary over the past several days for inadequate service in Connecticut, Schannauer said.

"Am I the only one who's troubled by this?" the hearing examiner asked during the meeting.

Other attorneys then layered their own criticisms atop Schannauer's.

Peter Gould, a Santa Fe attorney representing New Mexico Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance, said he has had trouble working with Avangrid "because they do not seem to understand playing by the rules."

Gould said an out-of-state attorney working for Avangrid hasn't received the required approval to participate in a case in New Mexico. And he said the merger applicants haven't hesitated to "go behind our backs to our clients" to try to get them to sign onto an agreement.

He also asked if Avangrid is "ready and able to provide the type of service that PNM has provided" for decades.

Numerous interested parties already have signed a tentative agreement with Avangrid and PNM, including the state Attorney General's Office, which said the proposal seemed sound. But others, including the city of Albuquerque and the Sierra Club, have not.

Jeff Albright, an Albuquerque attorney representing Bernalillo County, said dealing with Avangrid is perplexing. For instance, Iberdrola of Spain owns more than 80 percent of Avangrid but is not listed as an applicant on the proposal, he said.

Albright said there are so many affiliates and subsidiaries associated with the organization that it's "sometimes difficult to unravel what's going on."

"It's a confusing landscape," he said. "I won't say it's by intent, but it's very convoluted."

Mariel Nanasi, attorney for New Energy Economy of Santa Fe, said Avangrid has given minimal or no answer to many of the questions posed by her group during the discovery process. Nanasi said she would, if necessary, file a "motion to compel" Avangrid to respond and would ask the company to pay for attorney fees incurred in that process.

Haverly told Schannauer that Avangrid would be happy to address the hearing examiner's concerns "in any way in which you would like us to."

Schannauer said he wanted written responses. Later in the day, his written order called the companies' silence on the Avangrid subsidiaries' service problems "troubling."

The lack of openness is "relevant to the credibility of their witnesses' testimony and the transparency by which Avangrid and PNM would conduct their business in New Mexico if the merger is approved," he wrote.

He also expected the results of management audits conducted in Connecticut and Maine on Avangrid or subsidiaries to be included in the filings.

And Schannauer referred to a commission staff findings about one of the Avangrid subsidiaries, Central Maine Power. A J.D. Power customer satisfaction study in 2020 ranked 128 investor-owned electric utilities. Central Maine Power, Schannauer said, finished last.

(9) comments

Mike Sauber

I find it unfortunate that our Attorney General did not do the due diligence necessary for a case as important as this. I would suggest it wise to renounce the agreement until all of the negative attribute have been aired and given the import it deserves.

Gail Crane

Numerous interested parties already have signed a tentative agreement with Avangrid and PNM, including the state Attorney General's Office, which said the proposal seemed sound.

To the NM AG's office - "...on paper Avangrid's proposal SEEMS sound" (emphasis mine). Based on the documented experiences of current customers, can we count on them performing to the promises in their "sound proposal"?

Lee Vigil

I'm glad the PRC is paying attention and holding these peoples' feet to the fire, asking good questions, calling them out when necessary.

Paul White

Makes one wonder if those who signed on did their homework or whether it was a political behind-the-scenes deal. "Numerous interested parties already have signed a tentative agreement with Avangrid and PNM, including the state Attorney General's Office

Richard Reinders

It is New Mexico there is always a Movida!

Ann Maes

How much longer do we want corporate interests put above service to its tax paying citizens?! Will our representative serve us?! Corporate monopolies infringe upon our democracy!

Charles W Rodriguez

I've said this before, for it only to fall on deaf ears. This merger with Avangrid is a fatal mistake. Never, ever is it wise to corporatize a public utility. While PNM is already corporatized, PNM is wholly dedicated to service in NM. What this merger will produce is a corporation with no commitment to NM; not to mention the poor operating history Avangrid brings to the table. This merger is ill advised.

Philip Taccetta

I totally agree. Avangrid is talked about as a Connecticut corporation, downplaying the 80% owned by a Spanish corporation.

Based on past performance PNM basically blew off renewables doing the absolute minimum the state required. Now that it’s obvious that they have no choice they’re trying to leverage their position with this merger. Executives and retiring executives, as well as shareholders will be the only ones to benefit from this merger. I’ll bet that they’ll be after the PRC and the legislature for a rate increase within a couple of years.

Richard Reinders

I am glad someone was paying attention, the larger our utility companies get the smaller we get when it comes to issues and service.

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