My newsmaker of the year in New Mexico is 67 years old, labors mostly in the background and doesn’t sit for interviews.

Few would recognize Ashley Schannauer, masked or unmasked, as he navigates a political storm in a pandemic. But tens of thousands of electric customers have come to know him by reputation.

A hearing examiner for the state Public Regulation Commission, Schannauer has turned captains of industry into groveling pitchmen.

He has recommended that the commission’s five elected members reject a merger of Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid, a subsidiary of the Spanish company Iberdrola.

Absent Schannauer’s stinging review, the merger might be as good as done. His work has the utility companies looking desperate as they mount a counterattack.

Company executives say their $8.3 billion union would mean more jobs and more clean energy for New Mexico. Just stick to their plan and progress and prosperity would be a cinch.

An old saying applies to such promises: What businesspeople say they will do is less important than what they have done.

Schannauer took nothing for granted. He found Avangrid’s service record in the northeastern United States bad enough to cause worry about what might happen to customers in New Mexico.

A lawyer without an ounce of flamboyance, Schannauer declined to answer questions from me.

“I don’t want to be rude, but I’m not able to speak to the news media during the pendency of a case,” he wrote in an email.

The utility companies have no muzzle. They have run a series of full-page advertisements this week, mostly in the form of testimonials.

One ad attacked an opponent of the merger without mentioning Schannauer.

But Schannauer is the sole reason for the advertising blitz. His recommendation carries more weight with the commission than all advocacy groups combined.

PNM is a monopoly utility long accustomed to having its way. Schannauer stood against the company and most of the state’s political establishment by saying the proposed merger would do more harm than good.

The companies’ approach to winning over the PRC and New Mexico residents through advertising has raised more questions than it has answered.



A full-page ad Tuesday in The New Mexican was built around claims by four people from Maine, a state where Avangrid operates. One man who signed the ad was a building contractor. The contractor previously wrote a letter to the editor of The New Mexican advocating for the merger.

Could a Maine contractor’s abiding interest in New Mexico have something to do with Avangrid’s hope of building a transmission line in the East? It would slice through Maine forests, part of a giant electric cord running from Canada to Massachusetts.

Maine voters rejected the transmission line in a referendum last month. Avangrid is suing to proceed with the project.

Tuesday’s ad signed by the contractor carried the state seal of Maine. The same ad ran Wednesday but without the seal.

Maine Rep. Seth Berry, a relentless critic of Avangrid, complained about a business using the state seal, as though Maine’s government backed a venture in New Mexico for electric companies.

Berry said he’s asking the Maine attorney general to file criminal charges against those responsible for the ad. The case won’t ever reach criminal court, but Berry’s idea shows Avangrid’s critics are as tenacious as its boosters.

Another full-page ad in The New Mexican was signed by George Pataki, who was a three-term Republican governor of New York. Pataki is perhaps best-known for unseating Mario Cuomo, a three-term Democratic governor.

Before the advertisement ran, Pataki submitted a letter to the editor of The New Mexican supporting the merger. It was an early sign of Avangrid seeking help from the East in hopes of locking up a spot in the power grid between Texas and California.

Politics and business expansions don’t operate separately. John Baldacci, a former two-term Democratic governor of Maine, is vice chairman of Avangrid’s board of directors.

Baldacci headed Maine’s government during the same eight years that Democrat Bill Richardson was governor of New Mexico. Richardson recently wrote a letter to the editor advocating for the merger.

Schannauer wasn’t as well-known as the politicians pushing the proposal by PNM and Avangrid. He wasn’t known at all.

His skepticism reminded New Mexico residents that the Public Regulation Commission’s job is to balance the interests of ratepayers with the needs of utility companies. The system often misfires.

Still ahead is the PRC’s vote on the proposed merger. Based on their statements this week, three of the five commissioners are poised to reject it.

The case wouldn’t end there. The PRC decision, no matter how it goes, will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Every insider knew that could happen. Few expected one lawyer on the PRC’s staff to raise so many questions and such a ruckus. Ratepayers are better for it.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(18) comments

Steve Zappe

I had the pleasure of working with Ashley Schannauer back in the 2003-2005 time frame when he worked in the Environment Department's Office of General Counsel supporting the Hazardous Waste Bureau's WIPP project when I was the staff manager for that project. This was during a critical time when the Department of Energy was threatening to reclassify high-level waste in tanks at Hanford, Savannah River, and Idaho National Laboratory as transuranic waste eligible for disposal at WIPP. His legal perspective helped us successfully navigate this high-stakes game with sound advice and a winning solution, modifying the WIPP permit to prohibit this from happening. He is a public servant in the best sense of the term, and his service as the hearing officer for the PNM case demonstrates that sometimes the State gets more than their money's worth from public servants like Mr. Schannauer.

Chris Mechels

Also going without comment, that the PRC will soon be 3 members, appointed by the Governor. As the Governor, and the Trifecta, supported the merger, it will likely succeed the next time. Politics, not merit, governs is New Mexico. Long live the Trifecta!!

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] And of course, that is why those very same political powers pushed removing the PRC from an elected office. They have bigger plans for power and corruption in NM going forward.

Richard Reinders

That’s why you can’t leave MLG in office. NM is just a stepping stone as she keeps interviewing in DC, so she won’t care what she leaves the constituents with.

Chris Mechels

Milan puts the cart before the horse. Hearing Officers make their recommendations based on evidence presented to them. New Energy Economy, almost single handedly, presented a very strong case against the merger. Yet, Milan fails to mention them?? Poor reporting.

Mike Johnson

Excellent article about an excellent person, thanks!

Gray Sun

Mainer here and former resident of Flagstaff, AZ...I would warn the residents of New Mexico to reject Avangrid and Iberdrola. Their subsidiary, Central Maine Power, is among the least reliable and most expensive power companies in the US. They don't give a $#*! about Mainers, only about their profits. Google "Central Maine Power rate hikes" and you'll want no part of them

Diane Gonzales

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Floyd Cable

No amount of PNM/Avangrid advertising propaganda or shilling by PNM/Avangrid's bought-and-paid-for politicians will make the proposed merger a good deal for New Mexico.

Ashley Schannauer has done his job by acting in the public interest and informing the Commission about the many problems with the proposed merger.

Now it is up to the Commission to act in the public interest and nix this terrible deal.

Lawrence Leichtman

Thanks for the editorial. Avangrid and Iberdola are predatory and need o stay out of our state.

Mary Helen Follingstad

I received an email with an opinion survey from PNM that was worded in a way that was a tiresome manipulation to boost the good deal the merger would be. I was not able to check the boxes and did provide comments on the approach. Clearly an attempt to 'show' the benefit of the action.

Kathy Riley

From the first communication of Maine complaints about Vangard this seemed like NM was being suckered. Now reading of the positions of politicians in or related to Vangard, it would require 'another entity on the take' to fall for their plan. - Yes, look at what they've DONE ! Not the blabbering they spew.

Jerry Appel

This is great news for all New Mexicans, but I have to wonder how it affects, if at all, New Mexico's El Paso Electric customers? After all, despite local opposition, a subsidiary of JP Morgan took over El Paso Electric, and so far, not much has changed.

Edwina Gardner

It's about time someone stand up to PNM.

John Wilson

I have seen video of dogs shaking their prey. New Mexico should not volunteer to be a prey animal to a distant dog.

Emily Hartigan

Thanks again for clear reporting revealing whose ox is set to be gored, and helping protect the public ox.

Richard Reinders

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Cleve Spence

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Welcome to the discussion.

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