NM beware: The new consquistadores are here
By STATE REP. SETH BERRY, Democrat, Augusta, MAINE
In the 1500s and 1600s, Spanish conquistadores imagined great wealth in what is now New Mexico. Their early attempts at colonization and exploitation were both brutal and harsh.
Today, a Spanish multinational called Iberdrola seeks to make New Mexicans captive customers to a new kind of exploitative, profit-driven colonialism. Iberdrola owns 81.5% of, and wholly controls, a company called Avangrid. Avangrid wishes to buy your local power utility, PNM.
Known as the “Exxon of Renewables,” Avangrid’s interest is not to serve your needs as their captive customers. Rather, they intend to use New Mexico land to develop new energy resources for other markets.
By owning a pole-and-wire utility through their U.S. subsidiary, Iberdrola is able to exploit a loophole and double-dip. New Mexicans will pay for all corporate taxes of the PMN system as part of their rates, and Avangrid will also receive a tax credit for its new renewables projects. That’s right: instead of chipping in for the U.S. national defense or for New Mexico roads, Iberdrola will boost profits further at customer and taxpayer expense.
Avangrid/Iberdrola purchased our largest utility, Central Maine Power (CMP), in 2008, with similar intentions. Since then, transmission rates have tripled and overall residential rates in Maine are now the 10th highest in the nation. Last week, 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.
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, ’19 and ’20.
Avangrid/Iberdrola’s ownership structure is complex and has badly diminished local control and local priorities. All important decisions are made far away, and profit is the priority. Maine shows the dangers of giving monopoly privileges to a corporation like this one.
In fact, Maine is declaring its independence. Both our House and Senate have passed a historic, bipartisan bill to revoke Avangrid/Iberdrola’s monopoly privilege and to replace CMP with a nonprofit, consumer-owned utility. The bill is supported by 75% 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. …
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 harmful, too. But this is not colonization at gunpoint: New Mexico can still say no. …
Seth Berry is in his fourth term on the Maine House Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, has chaired the committee for three terms, and has served as House majority leader and as assistant majority leader.
Learn from Maine’s disastrous Avangrid error
By SOPHIE GAULKIN, Harpswell, MAINE, resident
I should say up front: I am not from New Mexico, I have no family in New Mexico and I have no friends in New Mexico; I’ve never even visited. But we do have one very important thing in common: Avangrid. For months I have been involved in a campaign to convert the power grid in my home state of Maine, currently run by Central Maine Power (CMP), a subsidiary of Avangrid, into a consumer-owned utility.
I became involved for two reasons. The first reason is I believe essential infrastructure like the power grid should be owned and democratically operated by the people it serves and should be, most importantly, responsive to their needs above the demands of profit. The second reason, the one I need New Mexico residents to know, is that CMP and Avangrid have been disastrous for the state of Maine, and they should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to repeat those harms in other states like New Mexico. …
My mom raised me and my two siblings by herself, and I remember growing up that we would lose power all the time, sometimes for two to three days. One time the power outage caused our sump pump to stop working and the entire basement flooded. Money was already tight, but the flood caused extensive property damage and, as a result, our basement needed new flooring.
Just a few months later, the power went out again, and to keep the basement from flooding a second time, my mom stayed up bailing water with a bucket for eight hours straight, all through the night. I remember her hands were cut up from hauling the bucket back and forth from the basement to outside. I remember seeing my mom cry. I remember her telling us that, no, there was nobody to call for help. Who can you call to help bail out your house in the middle of the night when the power is out, the phones don’t work, and your neighbors are dealing with their own problems caused by the outage?
That happened when I was 7 years old. It’s been 18 years since then, and Avangrid and the regulatory framework provided by the Public Utility Commission are still intolerable. According to an article in the Bangor Daily News, Maine “ranked first nationally in its average of four outages per year and second in outage duration of 14 hours annually over a five-year period from 2015 to 2019.” …
The lack of reliable power in Maine is not, as Avangrid would have you believe, because of winter weather, and it’s not because of trees. The rest of New England also has winters and trees. What separates the rest of New England from Maine is that they don’t have a company like Avangrid that fails to deliver reliable power year after year. … Avangrid hasn’t yet ruined your power grid. Don’t let them.