The five-person New Mexico Public Regulation Commission could decide today whether to reject the proposed $4.3 billion Avangrid Inc.-PNM Resources Inc. merger.
For everyone’s sake, let’s hope commissioners don’t do that. With the PRC’s impartiality in question and its integrity at stake, commissioners should hit the pause button. The merger has enormous implications for nearly everyone in the state, and it deserves more consideration than what the process yielded last week.
The reason the timing of the vote has come into question is because three commissioners openly stated their opposition to the deal last week after Hearing Examiner Ashley Schannauer recommended they reject the merger. They did so without at least discussing extensive settlement agreements that appeared to address some of Schannauer’s initial concerns.
Ultimately, Schannauer says the deal is not in the public interest because he believes Connecticut-based energy firm Avangrid and its parent firm, Spanish company Iberdrola S.A., have demonstrated a tendency to prioritize profit over customer interest, and he questioned whether the companies’ “corporate culture” would be good for New Mexico.
PRC Chairman Stephen Fischmann and two other commissioners — Cynthia Hall and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar — were openly critical of the deal in last week’s meeting.
They did not discuss the fact nearly all of the 24 parties involved in the case now either support the merger or remain neutral. Only one group, New Energy Economy, directly opposes it. And rather than discuss the extensive agreements negotiated by the parties in the case — many of which directly addressed Schannauer’s concerns — some commissioners appeared to dismiss them out of hand. Fischmann went so far as to call the negotiated agreement “fool’s gold.”
Attorney General Hector Balderas, who helped broker the settlement agreement, is concerned — and rightly so — “that certain commissioners are predetermining the case and unfairly communicating their positions in ways that may be denying due process rights for other parties.”
On Friday, PNM Resources and Avangrid filed a motion asking to provide direct oral testimony to the PRC at today’s meeting to explain how the agreements address some of Schannauer’s concerns. Some of those agreements included the parties’ submitted responses or “exceptions” to his decision recommending the merger be rejected.
The commission may vote today on whether to allow oral testimony — either today or at a later date — or move forward on a final vote.
Supporters of the merger have been working on a pathway to approval, having tackled issues such as regulatory oversight, local ownership, grid reliability, job creation, rate relief and environmental issues.
The PRC needs to grant the motion, listen to the details of the settlement, ask questions and then spell out exactly why the merger does or doesn’t make sense. Hall said she’ll carefully consider all arguments if commissioners do allow oral testimony. “People do change their minds,” she said.
Fischmann acknowledged commissioners may not vote today. “I don’t know how it will go,” Fischmann said. “We could just decide we’re ready to vote on the docket, or even decide to put it off until January to sit on it awhile, think about the exceptions filed, and spend a little more time combing through them before making a final decision.”
That would be the prudent choice. Commissioners should realize there’s more than the merger at stake. Public confidence in the regulatory process is on the table, too.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.