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Bill to limit utility fuel clause tabled

A state Senate committee voted Friday to table a bill curtailing the ability of New Mexico electric utilities to automatically charge ratepayers for fuel and purchased power without a public hearing, but the issue will likely resurface later at the Public Regulation Commission.

SB 498 -– co-sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe –- would have eliminated the so-called “fuel adjustment clause,” which allows Public Service Co. of New Mexico and the state’s two other public utilities to pass on fuel charges to customers with a simple administrative review by PRC staff.

The bill was backed by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and by environmental and consumer advocacy groups that believe some utilities may have manipulated the clause and that they should instead by forced to justify all charges in public hearings at the PRC.

But members of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee firmly rejected those arguments in a 6-4 vote to table the bill. Some committee members said proponents were unfairly accusing the electric companies of shady business practices, while others said the PRC is shirking its responsibility to oversee utility operations.

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