I am a seven-term member of the Maine House of Representatives, and House chairman of our Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology. Based on my direct knowledge of Avangrid/Iberdrola, I do not believe the proposed PNM-Avangrid merger would benefit the people of New Mexico.
Avangrid/Iberdrola purchased our largest local utility, Central Maine Power, in 2008. Since then, transmission rates have tripled and overall residential rates in Maine are now the 10th highest in the nation. Recently, CMP announced another double-digit increase.
Since Avangrid/Iberdrola bought CMP, Maine has become No. 1 in outages, with the most frequent and second-longest outages in the country.
Mainers also faced significant hardship due to the company’s improper billing practices. Customers reported foregoing Christmas celebrations, missing mortgage payments and choosing between paying electricity bills or buying medicine and food.
CMP executives blamed customers for their inflated bills, took out ads and held news conferences to insist all was well, and the utility ultimately was fined $10 million for its disastrous rollout of a new billing system. Still, most customers were never compensated, a class-action lawsuit is pending, and many continue to take extreme measures to reduce inexplicably high bills in the depths of our Maine winters.
If utilities were not monopolies, CMP would have no customers and no revenue. In the most widely recognized national survey of utility business customer satisfaction, CMP ranked in last place in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
When Avangrid/Iberdrola/CMP wanted to import power from Canada through Maine to Massachusetts, they acted nefariously to stifle public discourse. Their political action committee spent thousands on private detectives to follow citizen petition gatherers, and thousands more on lobbying. Avangrid/Iberdrola/CMP also spent millions in advertising because the project is so unpopular. Rather than letting the project be evaluated on the merits, the company used extra-legal measures, lobbying and propaganda to try and force their way. In 2017, they lobbied profligately to defeat a bill that would have required an independent analysis of the project’s global climate emissions impact.
Avangrid/Iberdrola’s ownership structure is complex and has badly diminished local control and local priorities. All important decisions are made far away, in parts of the world with little concern for ours. Avangrid and Iberdrola have proved in Maine, and also in Connecticut and New York, that profit is their only principle. Maine’s experiences show the dangers of giving monopoly privileges to corporations like these.
As I write this, in fact, Maine is filing for a divorce. Both the Maine House and Senate recently passed a historic bipartisan bill to revoke Avangrid/Iberdrola’s monopoly privilege and replace CMP with a nonprofit, consumer-owned utility. The bill is supported by 75 percent of Mainers. If the bill becomes law, it will save ratepayers $9 billion over the first 30 years, accelerate our transition to renewable energy and secure our grid.
The stakes are high. Electrification is critical to addressing climate change, and our power grid is becoming more important every day. You would not let a regulated, for-profit monopoly own your schools, your roads or your fire departments. Why trust it with your power?
In Maine, the mismanagement and failures of Avangrid/Iberdrola have caused lasting and irreversible harm. In New Mexico, their impact on captive customers will doubtless be just as harmful. But this is not a shotgun wedding. New Mexico can still say no.