June 16, 2022

PRC opens inquiry into utility vegetation management practices

USDA Forest Service

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved an order to open an inquiry into the practices of utilities when it comes to the vegetiative management.

The order issued Wednesday requires investor-owned electric utilities and rural electric cooperatives to provide the regulatory body with copies of their current practices and plans for managing vegetation as well as any other policies they might have to address wildfire risks.

This comes as utilities have been under increased scrutiny following major fires that have occurred in the western United States that were caused by electric infrastructure.

In New Mexico, the McBride Fire that killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes and properties near Ruidoso likely started after high winds caused a tree to fall onto power lines owned by the Public Service Company of New Mexico.

In other parts of the west, the deadly Camp Fire that burned through the town of Paradise, California, in 2018 was caused by electric utility infrastructure.

The PRC order comes following discussions the commission had last week upon the request of Commissioner Cynthia Hall, who said it would help provide a better picture for what the current practices are. 

“I just think it’s prudent for us under these harsh wind and drought conditions where there’s so much enhanced risk of fire that we at least have a look at what these plans involve and possibly have workshops,” Hall said during the meeting last week.

She said while fire season has already started, it is still in its early stages.

While looking into the current practices, the regulators could also consider if they are the best practices or if changes are needed to better prevent wildfires. 

“My concern is that if we do nothing and we have some fires that are started by utilities, we may be remiss in not having examined their practices,” she further said during the meeting last week.