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PRC defers Facebook power line decision

This file photo shows the Public Regulation Commission when it approved a service agreement between PNM and Facebook for a proposed data center in Valencia County. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A ruling that Facebook should pay Public Service Company of New Mexico nearly half the cost of a new $85 million transmission line is off the table, at least for now.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted 5-0 on Wednesday to defer the issue of PNM cost recovery for the project to a future rate case. That decision lets Facebook off the hook for a $39 million bill that the PRC had said PNM should directly charge the social media giant to finance the project.

Until Wednesday, commissioners had rejected requests by PNM and other parties in the case to reconsider an April order prohibiting PNM from charging general ratepayers for any project costs. That decision was based on testimony from a PNM executive who said in February that the proposed transmission line would serve only Facebook’s massive data center in Los Lunas and wholesale customers, not general ratepayers.

The line, which would run from Clines Corners to a new PNM substation in Sandoval County, would carry electricity from a 166-megawatt wind farm that Avangrid Renewables is constructing east of Estancia to provide renewable energy to Facebook.

But PNM has since revised the testimony from its executive, calling the project a “network upgrade” that benefits all customers. In fact, in late May, it submitted additional, written testimony claiming that the line would also carry electricity from a second, 140-megawatt wind project that the utility is negotiating with Avangrid to benefit PNM customers in general.

The utility asked commissioners to reopen the case record to admit the new evidence on the project, known as the BB2 transmission line, to pave the way for the PRC to reverse its decision on billing Facebook for half the costs.

Rather than reopen the case, commissioners on Wednesday voted to revise their order blocking PNM from charging general ratepayers and instead allow the utility to present its case to the commission the next time it files for a rate increase.

“I want to protect our ratepayers, but if the line will really transmit electricity from the new wind project and is not just intended for Facebook, then we should look at that new evidence,” Commissioner Cynthia Hall told the Journal on Wednesday afternoon. “We could have done that through a new hearing hastily pulled together, but it makes more sense to treat it in PNM’s next rate case.”

PNM called the PRC decision a “positive step forward.”

“It leaves in place the authority to build the line and allows PNM to present a case for who benefits and covers the costs in a future rate review proceeding,” said PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval in an email to the Journal.