Two new PRC members hold open public meeting - Albuquerque Journal

Two new PRC members hold open public meeting

The new Public Regulation Commission met for the first time in its new location in Santa Fe on Wednesday. Commissioners Patrick O’Connell, right, and Gabriel Aguilera introduce themselves. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

The newly formed three-member Public Regulation Commission began work Wednesday, but only two of the governor’s appointees took the bench to preside over this year’s first open public meeting.

That’s because James F. Ellison Jr. must still be sworn in after the governor selected him on Tuesday to replace Brian Moore, a previous appointee who resigned because he lacks the college degree required to become a commissioner.

The other two commissioners, Gabriel Aguilera and Patrick O’Connell, both took the oath of office early this year, after the prior five-member PRC disbanded under a constitutional amendment that has now converted the previously elected commission to a three-member body that is chosen by the governor, pending confirmation from the state Senate.

Once sworn in, the commissioners have legal authority to conduct commission affairs, said PRC spokesman Patrick Rodriguez.

“It’s like cabinet secretaries who take office once the governor appoints them, even though they must still receive Senate confirmation,” Rodriguez told the Journal. “They do have immediate authority to rule on cases and make judgments.”

Since a legal quorum requires only two commissioners, O’Connell and Aguilera conducted the first weekly meeting of 2023 Wednesday morning, with Ellison unofficially participating online. In their first official action, the two elected O’Connell this year’s PRC chairman. But they postponed most other administrative decisions until next week, when Ellison is expected to join the bench for the first time.

All three, including Ellison, expressed some of their hopes and aspirations for the PRC going forward, addressing in particular public concerns about making sure all regions of New Mexico are represented adequately in PRC decisions under the commission’s new statutory structure, which replaced direct elections for commissioners in five specific districts with statewide appointees.

The new Public Regulation Commission met for the first time in its new location in Santa Fe on Wednesday. Commissioner James F. Ellison Jr., left, introduced himself via Zoom. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

O’Connell, a professional engineer, said he’s spent his career working in and around regulated utilities, which provide essential services that must remain reliable and affordable for all.

“We’re in a moment of transition,” O’Connell said. “Each of us is now responsible for representing the entire state.”

Aguilera appealed for all individuals and communities to provide their perspectives directly in proceedings at the PRC.

“It’s the best way to make sure your views are considered in commission decisions,” Aguilera said.

Community organizations have voiced particular concern about loss of direct representation from Native American tribes, especially from the Navajo Nation, which has been hard hit by efforts to replace coal with renewable generation in the Four Corners as the PRC oversees utility transition to non-carbon electric resources under the state’s Energy Transition Act.

To address those concerns, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an order in December to create a new, four-member tribal advisory council with one representative each from the Navajo Nation, the Apache tribes, and both the eight northern and 10 southern pueblos.

The commissioners will choose a “point person” next week to communicate with the governor as she selects tribal representatives. And they pledged to work closely with the advisory council, which O’Connell said could become a model for other communities nationwide in ensuring transparency and inclusion in regulatory practices.

Ellison – a Sandia National Laboratories employee with three decades of experience in electric utility operations and power markets – said the state’s foundational transition to non-carbon generation motivated him to seek appointment to the commission.

“I do believe New Mexico is at a critical juncture,” Ellison said. “The PRC is tasked with ensuring that the transition to renewables takes place, while preserving reliability and ensuring the cost of power be as low as reasonably possible … I pledge to represent all of New Mexico, to be fair and open in seeking tribal council input, and to listen to the viewpoints of all stakeholders.”

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