The front page of the Nov. 4 Portland, Maine, Press-Herald shows a photo of an enormous power shovel tearing up trees to cut a swath through miles of pristine Maine forest to bring Canadian hydro power south for Avangrid, a subsidiary of a Spanish energy giant, Iberdrola, to sell into Massachusetts.
Avangrid bought Central Maine Power and wants to buy PNM. Given current renewables and battery storage technology, the forest destruction in Maine is uncalled for and heedless. What is particularly appalling is Avangrid’s bulldozing of Maine’s forest continued after 60 percent of Maine’s citizens voted in a Nov. 4 referendum to forbid it. They, the people of Maine, heard all the arguments pro and con and said “no.” Avangrid’s response to the vote of the people? “We’re going to do it anyway!”
Avangrid’s position is that the referendum was unlawful and can be ignored, notwithstanding that it was on the ballot and passed by a wide margin. A poster child for corporate arrogance? Look no further than Avangrid. If you had attended the Public Regulation Commission hearing on the Avangrid/PNM merger, you’d have cheered the hearing examiner’s recommendation to reject Avangrid’s takeover.
Consider some of the evidence: After Avangrid bought Central Maine Power, it became No. 1 for unreliable electric service, with more blackouts than any other U.S. utility. Maine’s governor called Avangrid’s service “abysmal.” Under Avangrid’s ownership, Central Maine Power had the lowest rating in J.D. Powers’ 2020 Electric Utility Customer Satisfaction Survey among all U.S. power companies.
The lowest! For three years in a row. A public audit of Avangrid management found it consistently sacrificed effective operations and customer service in favor of profit. Top executives of Avangrid’s parent, the Spanish multinational corporation Iberdrola, are under criminal investigation in Spain for bribery, falsification of commercial documents and privacy violations.
Avangrid’s motive to buy PNM is to give it a “beachhead” in New Mexico to develop non-utility electricity sales activities in the Southwest, risking that New Mexico ratepayers will subsidize Avangrid’s corporate expansion in the region at the expense of providing New Mexicans with cost-effective, reliable power. Avangrid and Iberdrola ignored PRC orders and rules and incurred sanctions, creating a concern that PRC’s limited resources would be overtaxed in regulating Avangrid.
Approval of the buyout carries a risk of slowing development of New Mexico’s renewable energy resources and resulting higher rates. Avangrid has refused to agree to an independent board of directors for the New Mexico utility, effectively leaving control of our state-granted electrical monopoly in the hands of foreign corporations. A member of the Maine Legislature testified at the hearing on the PNM merger: “Based on our experience in Maine and in my direct knowledge of Avangrid/Iberdrola, I do not believe the merger would be beneficial to PNM ratepayers or New Mexicans.” He provided many reasons for saying this, including Avangrid’s “dismal customer satisfaction ratings,” “unethical disconnect notices in the depths of winter during a pandemic” and “[e]nforcement actions in Maine, Connecticut and New York … illustrative of a pattern of mismanagement and disregard for customers and state authorities.”
Avangrid thumbing its nose at Maine voters, which occurred after the hearing examiner made his recommendation in the PNM case, completes the picture. Read the transcript on the PRC website. We granted PNM a monopoly through our elected government. PNM’s shareholders and executives want an enormous payday for transferring that monopoly to Avangrid. Whether Avangrid is the right choice to hold the monopoly is up to us, acting through our PRC. In light of the evidence, why would we pick Avangrid? Raise your voices.