Hearing examiner defends process that rejected merger - Albuquerque Journal

Hearing examiner defends process that rejected merger

In “Intervening Parties Debate Past ‘Irregularities’ in Avangrid-PNM merger case” (Journal, March 12), Western Resource Advocates attorney Cydney Beadles claims I, as the hearing examiner, and the Public Regulation Commission committed irregularities in the Avangrid-PNM merger case and we “treated the case in ways (she has) never seen before.”

In my 42 years as an attorney, these are the first insinuations of impropriety claimed against me. Until my recent retirement, I worked for the PRC for 17 years, including 12 years as a hearing examiner and three years as head of the Hearing Examiners Office. Beadles’ claims should not be allowed to also reflect more broadly on the Hearing Examiners Office or the commission.

Beadles first complains I “exclude(d) dozens of benefits offered by Avangrid from consideration” because the agreements came after an arbitrary deadline. The “arbitrary” deadline, however, was the date the evidentiary hearings ended. Two parties objected to the consideration of the new benefits unless the hearings were reopened and the benefits were properly admitted into evidence. I gave all parties the opportunity to ask that the hearings be reopened, but no party did so, including WRA.

Second, Beadles claims I “exclu(ded) testimony by 10 expert witnesses who supported the merger.” This is false. No expert testimony was excluded. I also addressed the substance of the arguments offered by all 36 witnesses.

Third, Beadles states I improperly concluded “that the interlocking corporate structure of Avangrid and its parent firm, Spanish company Iberdrola S.A., made it too difficult for the commission to regulate against self-dealing” despite applicable PRC and federal regulations. The potential for ratepayers to subsidize the companies’ unregulated businesses was one of the reasons I recommended the merger be rejected. Beadles may disagree with my conclusion, but the conclusion is not an “irregularity.”

Fourth, Beadles complains about my “decision to submit confidential legal documents from Spain about a criminal investigation involving a top Iberdrola executive that commissioners were allowed to review, but nobody else in the case could see.” She states the “Spanish investigation, which was dismissed by the Spanish courts in July 2020, apparently had a significant impact on commissioners. But intervenors had no chance to review the confidential report to provide a different perspective or challenge its relevance.”

The facts are these. The four documents at issue initiated the Spanish court’s criminal investigation into the person who was both Avangrid chairman and Iberdrola CEO. Iberdrola provided the documents to the commission but stated Spanish law prohibited their disclosure except to the hearing examiner and commission.

The European press, however, had already obtained and reported extensively on the same documents, and several of the European news reports were provided to the parties prior to the hearing and admitted into the evidentiary record. My decision included a seven-page discussion of the documents with four minor redactions of information not previously published.

Finally, the criminal investigation was dismissed in June 2022 – not in July 2020 – after the commission’s December 2021 rejection of the merger. The dismissal was based upon the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Beadles is free to disagree with the recommended decision and the commission’s final ruling, but she should not misstate the facts to attack my integrity or that of the commission.

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