Energy companies push for proposed merger in New Mexico

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s largest electric provider and global energy giant Iberdrola say they’re committed to customer protections as they push for regulatory approval for a multibillion-dollar merger.

PNM Resources, the parent company of Public Service Co. of New Mexico, and Iberdrola subsidiary Avangrid filed additional arguments with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Friday.

The filing aims to address the concerns of a hearing examiner who recently recommended that the commission reject the merger. The official had found that the potential harm outweighed any benefits of the proposed deal.

The filing disputes some of the official’s findings and states that the companies would include $10 million more in economic development benefits and additional commitments to corporate governance and other financial protections for customers.

According to the filing, PNM would delay its next rate case filing by six months to Dec. 1, 2022.

The companies also suggested that if reliability metrics and penalties for falling short are adopted as part of the merger, the commission should also consider developing reliability standards and penalties that would apply to all utilities in New Mexico equally “to avoid a discriminatory approach.”

The commission will have the final say. If the merger is rejected, the companies could submit a revised proposal. Also, the commission’s decision can be appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

“Our filing with Avangrid today shows that our companies together are truly committed to moving New Mexico forward and bringing benefits to PNM’s customers and the community,” Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM Resources chairwoman, president and CEO, said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We look forward to bringing all the commitments to our customers and New Mexico into reality.”

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is among the parties in the case. He acknowledged Friday that the proposal has been hotly contested but remains supportive of the merger with the additional terms.

“As the sole voice elected by and accountable to consumers in this negotiation, I’m optimistic the commission will agree with the majority of the stakeholders that the merger is in the public interest,” Balderas said in a statement.

Under the merger, Connecticut-based Avangrid and its parent firm, Iberdrola of Spain, would acquire PNM Resources and its New Mexico and Texas power subsidiaries. If approved, the $4.3 billion transaction would affect about 800,000 homes and businesses.

New Mexico customers earlier this year sounded the alarm over the proposal, citing a sordid track record of reliability and customer service among utilities owned by Avangrid in other states.

Spanish officials also announced in June that Iberdrola executives would be investigated over alleged bribery, breach of privacy and fraud. The company has maintained that the executives did nothing wrong.

The PRC hearing examiner, Ashley Schannauer, had blasted Avangrid and Iberdrola earlier this year for failing to disclose information about the problems elsewhere. Schannauer’s recommendation cited missteps and problems, including incomplete responses and overly extensive confidentiality requests.

Mariel Nanasi with New Energy Economy, a consistent critic of PNM, pointed to the millions of dollars in penalties racked by up Avangrid in other states, its handling of rooftop and community solar programs elsewhere and other concerns outlined by the hearing examiner.

“Customers are entitled to a utility that is reliable, trustworthy, has technical prowess, and complies with law and regulation,” she said. “Allowing Avangrid here … seems extremely risky and potentially harmful to ratepayers and New Mexicans. New Mexicans deserve more and we can do better.”

Experts have suggested that New Mexico could serve as a platform for producing power that could be exported to larger markets. But critics worry that the state’s customers would be reduced to a secondary consideration for Avangrid and Iberdrola as they look to expand their renewable energy holdings.

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