August 10, 2021

PNM customers concerned Avangrid acquisition could lead to increased rates, outages

Public Service Company of New Mexico customers expressed concerns about the state’s largest utility being acquired by Avangrid, the subsidiary of a global utility giant, during a New Mexico Public Regulation Commission hearing on Monday.

At the end of Monday’s session, hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer thanked the participants and encouraged people to watch the evidentiary hearing that begins Wednesday and will be streamed on YouTube. The PRC will post a link to the YouTube video on its website a few minutes before the livestream begins.

The majority of the concerns expressed focused on Avangrid’s management of Maine’s largest utility as well as criminal espionage investigations into executives with Avangrid’s parent company, Iberdrola.

Related: Iberdrola executives named in criminal espionage investigation

PNM customer Sarah Walker expressed concerns that she and other ratepayers could see increased rates and utility outages. After Avangrid acquired Central Maine Power Company, the utility rates increased and customers experienced extended electricity outages.

Walker said she relies on oxygen and is on a fixed income. She said she has benefited from PNM’s reliable service and low rates.

The Maine legislature passed a bill this year seeking to force a buyout of Central Maine Power to a newly-created consumer-owned utility. This bill was prompted by frustration about high electricity rates and extended power outages. The state’s governor, however, vetoed the bill in July.

The Portland Press Herald reported that Maine Gov. Janet Mills said she was not opposed to the concept behind the bill, but found it hastily drafted.

Meanwhile, unions and business groups like the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce expressed support for the merger, citing job creation and a focus on renewable energy. The merger will create at least 150 jobs and includes $65 million in direct rate credits for ratepayers as well as $15 million for low-income energy efficiency, Terri Cole, the president of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, highlighted.

“This merger is the key to a cleaner, stronger energy economy,” Cole said.

Opponents to the merger highlighted Avangrid’s lobbying efforts to defeat a bill in Maine that would have benefited customers with rooftop solar arrays. Additionally, customers like Albuquerque-resident Melora Palmer argued that, while Avangrid touts a focus on renewable energy, the company still relies heavily on natural gas generation. Palmer called the merger a “classic case of greenwashing.”

And she was not alone in that sentiment.

“New Mexico ratepayers will be flushed down a non-renewable toilet,” Rayellen Smith, president of Indivisible Nob Hill and a PNM customer, said.

PRC Chairman Stephen Fischmann and commissioners Joseph Maestas and Cynthia Hall attended the hearing.

“We got lots of perspectives and points of view, and that’s what these discussions are for,” Fischmann said.