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Justices Kill Utility Surcharge

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The state Supreme Court has struck down a Public Regulation Commission rule that allowed utilities to recover some revenues they lose when customers use less electricity through companies’ energy efficiency programs.

Consumers, who have been paying a monthly surcharge, should see a slight drop — 17 cents — in their utility bills, at least temporarily.

The high court last week held the PRC order adopting the rule lacked a “lawful basis in the record” to support the decision and sent it back to the PRC.

New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers attorney Peter Gould called it “a big win for consumers,” according to AP. NMIEC and the Attorney General’s Office appealed the PRC decision. The Attorney General’s Office said it will push to have the surcharge suspended as soon as possible.

Public Service Company of New Mexico began collecting the charge in January, about 35 cents a month for average customers. It recently dropped to 17 cents, spokeswoman Susan Sponar said.

The 2005 Efficient Use of Energy Act required public utilities to implement programs — refrigerator recycling programs, discounts for compact fluorescent bulbs, for example — to reduce energy use. A later amendment allowed utilities to receive incentives for the programs.

The PRC adopted a rule authorizing a new charge for utilities to recover certain fixed costs, such as utility line maintenance, that continue even with reduced energy use. The charge was based on a penny per kilowatt-hour expected to be saved over the life of the program. Future recovery was to done in rate proceedings based on a half-cent kilowatt-hour saved.

The high court, however, said the order was not “evidence-based, cost-based, nor utility-specific.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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