Suppose I told you the following:

  • Your home’s electricity would cost 5 percent less for the next three years, saving you $126.
  • Your power supply would be pollution-free, with zero greenhouse gases, by 2035.
  • Your pandemic-related delinquent electric bill would be forgiven.
  • If you live in a rural or tribal area and don’t have electricity, $2 million would be used to get you service.
  • You would be eligible for part of $15 million in energy efficiency upgrades for homes and businesses.
  • If you live on Navajo land, you would see $300 million of renewable energy investment.
  • Over five years, $25 million would be dedicated to economic development in New Mexico.
  • If you live on tribal lands, your communities would receive $12.5 million for economic development.
  • If you work for Public Service Company of New Mexico, your job would be protected for three years.
  • If you’re a PNM customer, your reliability would be guaranteed with strict requirements and penalties.
  • There would be 150 new, high-paying jobs in New Mexico.
  • Oh, and none of these things would cost you a dime?

Well, thanks to our Public Regulation Commission, you likely will see none of this, although PNM is appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.

On Dec. 8, the PRC denied Avangrid’s offer to merge with PNM, which included all these benefits and many more. Only one out of 24 parties in the case opposed the merger. In its zeal to deny the Avangrid/PNM proposal, the PRC even refused to hear directly from the 23 of 24 parties not opposed to the merger. Why? One PRC member said she didn’t want to waste the time, and others worried they might be convinced to do the wrong thing. Seriously?

So, why did they reject the merger? According to the PRC, it was because Avangrid was a bad actor. In fact, the PRC seemed intent on denying the merger regardless and created a long list of excuses to do so. Here are three the PRC seemed to rely on most, and why they make no sense:

  • Avangrid utilities provided unreliable service back East. In fact, the service issues were caused by record storms driven by climate change. Had the merger been approved, it would have specifically addressed our climate crisis. Avangrid’s service record was typical of other Eastern utilities and in many cases, better. And importantly, Avangrid’s experience with severe weather could have been useful to New Mexico as it continues to deal with climate change.
  • There’s a corporate espionage case in Spain, and some Iberdrola officials (Avangrid’s parent company) are being investigated. According to the PRC, this shows Avangrid’s poor corporate culture. Worth noting, though, is that Avangrid itself brought the case to the PRC’s attention, and even the PRC acknowledges much of what’s being investigated is legal in the U.S. The PRC uses secret information to support its conclusions, conveniently making it impossible for anyone to challenge. Still, after years of investigation, no Iberdrola or Avangrid official has been charged with anything.

A

  • vangrid would put its profits over the interest of consumers. Really — that’s a surprise? That’s why we have regulators. Perhaps, instead of denying the merger and its benefits, the PRC could just do its job.

The PRC’s merger denial is one of the worst and most consequential decisions I have seen in nearly 40 years appearing before the PRC. Except for Commissioner Joseph Maestas, who was at least willing to hear from parties and look for ways to make the merger work, the rest of the PRC again showed that voters were right in reforming this destructive agency.

Unfortunately, the reforms don’t start until 2023. That’s one year too late.

Steve Michel is deputy director of the clean energy program for the Western Resource Advocates.

(3) comments

Floyd Cable

Jeez, I'd hoped we'd heard the end of the slanted, pro-PNM pitches for a bit.

Rather than try to refute the writer's message point by point, I'll respond briefly to just two points. One is the writer's claim that the massive number of complaints about the Avangrid service in Maine (which resulted in them being bottom-ranked) was only due to service interruptions caused by extreme weather due to climate change. There are plenty of Mainers who were very unhappy with Avangrid's power service, customer service, and billing practices even when the weather is good. And severe weather in Maine? Who'dathunk it?

The other is the professed munificence of the deal for customers and tribal interests. Those alleged financial benefits pale in comparison to the size of the prospective windfall profits for Avangrid, which would make the alleged benefits seem like so much chump change in comparison. Not to mention the size of the very, very generous golden parachutes PNM execs would get in exchange for supporting the merger.

As has been noted repeatedly by many opponents to the merger, privatization of public or semi-public utilities has rarely proven to be to the long-term benefit of consumers. Maybe some day a deal might come along where privatization will be to the big-picture, long-term benefits of all New Mexico consumers. This Avangrid merger was not such a deal.

I fear, though, that the political power and influence of big-money interests, and the naivete of non-commercial/non-governmental organizations, will eventually saddle us with this Avangrid deal with a bit of added lipstick, or a comparable deal, or something even worse. Count on the proponents and supporters of such bad deals assuring us that the check will be in the mail, that we'll be respected in the morning, and that our best interests will counterbalance the objective of fattening the bottom line to the point of morbid obesity.

Mike Johnson

Yes, no doubt this opinion reflects what many rich, elite, left wing special interests groups think, as their bought and paid for politicians failed to convince people to ignore the egregious and consumer destroying effects this merger would bring. And now they live in a state of denial, and lick their wounds awaiting the time when their bought and paid for politicians can appoint their stooges to do their bidding. Heaven help us when that happens.

Richard Reinders

You say you electric bill will be 5% less for three years but you failed to say then it will go up 25% for the next ten years, a net loss for the consumer.

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