Sparks fly as PNM merger hearings begin – Albuquerque Journal

Sparks fly as PNM merger hearings begin

PNM Building downtown Albuquerque. Wednesday, Oct. 21 , 2020. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico residents and organizations spoke passionately for and against the proposed merger between PNM Resources and Avangrid in open public comment Monday with the Public Regulation Commission.

If the PRC approves the deal, Connecticut energy giant Avangrid will acquire PNM Resources and its two utility subsidiaries – Public Service Company of New Mexico and Texas New Mexico Power – in an all-cash transaction valued at $4.3 billion. The two companies requested PRC approval last fall, generating a lengthy regulatory process to decide if the merger is in the public interest.

Monday’s comment session marked the start of formal hearings following more than six months of discovery and written testimony submitted by about 24 parties who are formally intervening in the case. Those parties will participate in quasi-judicial proceedings starting Wednesday and running through Aug. 20 to present oral argument and conduct cross examination.

PRC Hearing Examiner Ashley Schannauer will then submit a “recommended decision” on the proposed merger to the PRC’s five commissioners, who will then vote to approve or reject the deal.

Monday’s online forum allowed the general public to weigh in on the issues, giving dozens of people up to three minutes to speak on their own behalf, or as representatives of organizations that aren’t formally intervening in hearings.

Many individual PNM customers voiced adamant opposition to the merger, citing reports of poor electric service by Avangrid utilities in other states, particularly in Maine, where media stories document frequent, lengthy power outages, plus substantial rate hikes by Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power.

“In my research, I couldn’t find even one good review about Avangrid,” said one Albuquerque resident. “They’ve had power outages of up to four days, and bills have tripled.”

Another PNM customer said giving Avangrid monopoly control over PNM ratepayers could tie local consumers to poor service with no alternatives.

“It’s a captive-customer base here that can easily be exploited,” he said. “This deal is not in the best interest of ratepayers.”

Others called for strict regulatory controls over Avangrid if the PRC does approve the deal to ensure reliable and affordable service. AARP-NM, for example, hasn’t taken a position on the merger, said AARP utility advisory team co-chair Cameron Graham.

“But it’s imperative to have protections in place for ratepayers.”

In contrast, business organizations, local unions and environmental groups voiced strong support for the merger, citing about $315 million in economic benefits that Avangrid has offered in exchange for merger support from parties in the case. That includes customer rate relief, assistance for low-income consumers, economic development programs, and new jobs.

They also praised Avangrid’s commitment to renewable energy development and the financial resources it brings to build it.

The proposed merger “can generate cleaner power on a remarkably large scale and at a remarkably fast pace,” said Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Terri Cole. “We should welcome Avangrid with open arms. It can provide a bridge to a cleaner, stronger economy.”

 


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