Group accuses PNM, AVANGRID of misleading the public

An environment and consumer protection advocacy group said the Public Service Company of New Mexico and AVANGRID engaged in an ad campaign to mislead the public. New Energy Economy filed a motion to show cause with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Friday. In a press release, the group stated that the order to show cause comes as a result of emails from confused New Mexico residents who have seen advertisements that make it look as if PNM and AVANGRID are a single company. The PRC rejected an application for the two entities to merge last year, though that decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court. NEE has asked the PRC to investigate what it terms as a “deceptive and misleading co-branding strategy” that it alleges PNM and AVANGRID are engaging in because “they believe that the PRC’s decision is no more than a small pothole on the way to the merger that they are hell-bent on accomplishing.”

“When PNM CFO Don Tarry was deposed in another case, he accidentally referred to the merger as ‘delayed’ rather than its actual status – denied, because the PRC that we elected determined that it would not serve the public interest,” NEE Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said in a press release.

PRC rejects PNM/Avangrid merger

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission essentially denied the merger between Avangrid and Public Service Company of New Mexico on Wednesday.. The commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to reject the stipulated agreement, following a recommendation from the PRC hearing examiner that the potential risks to customers outweigh the benefits. “This whole deal to me kind of boils down to promises versus actual performance,” Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann said, highlighting Avangrid’s past performance in New England where it owns several utilities and has faced more than $60 million in fines from regulators. PNM and Avangrid promoted the merger as an opportunity to transition faster away from fossil fuels through access to Avangrid’s better credit ratings as well as benefits associated with Avangrid’s scale. Avangrid’s large size could lead to lower costs for equipment because the company would be able to buy in bulk.

PRC commissioners have concerns over Avangrid/PNM merger, as companies defend

Officials from Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid say a pending merger would help the state’s largest electric utility reach renewable energy targets at a faster pace. The two companies hosted a press conference on Thursday following the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission’s discussion the previous day regarding a hearing examiner’s recommendation that the commission deny the merger. 

Three of the five commissioners stated during the Wednesday meeting that they oppose the merger and believe that the potential harms to the customers outweigh the benefits. Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann, who was the first commissioner to express opposition to the merger, said that the main reason to reject it is that Avangrid has an “absolutely horrible record of running U.S. utilities.”

Commissioners Cynthia Hall and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar joined Fischmann in voicing opposition, which is an unusual move for the PRC, as the merger was not scheduled for a vote and the commission must still hear the exceptions in the case presented. 

Related: Hearing examiner says potential harms outweigh benefits in PNM/Avangrid merger

During the Thursday press conference, Attorney General Hector Balderas criticized the commissioners for voicing their opposition prior to the official vote and prior to hearing all the evidence. “Based on the commissioners’ statements yesterday, I am a little concerned that they seem to have implied as jurors that they’re leaning one way or another in terms of making their decision,” he said. During Thursday’s press conference, Balderas also spoke about the importance of transitioning away from fossil fuels and said that the merger could help New Mexico achieve the goals set out in the 2019 Energy Transition Act.

Hearing examiner says potential harms outweigh benefits in PNM/Avangrid merger

A hearing examiner for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission says the harms of a proposed merger between the state’s largest electric utility and a global utility giant outweigh the benefits. Hearing Examiner Ashley Schannauer issued his recommendation that the PRC deny the merger between Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid, the U.S. subsidiary of the Spanish firm Iberdrola in a report released on Monday. In October 2020, Avangrid announced plans to buy PNM’s parent company, PNM Resources. PNM Resources also owns Texas New Mexico Power and the Texas utility regulators have already approved the merger. Related: Connecticut-based utility company agrees to buy PNM Resources

In his 445-page report, Schannauer outlines a variety of potential harms that could occur should the merger be approved.

Iberdrola executives named in criminal espionage investigation

Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid have informed the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission of a criminal investigation in Spain that names several executives of Avangrid’s parent company, Iberdrola. This comes as the PRC is weighing a merger case that would allow Avangrid to acquire PNM. A document filed in the merger docket on Thursday states that officials in Spain are looking into potential criminal activities connected to Iberdrola. The filing states that Spanish law does not allow government employees to provide services to private companies. However, a government employee may have provided services to 21 companies including Iberdrola.

Critics say PNM, Avangrid merger could hurt ratepayers, environment

Government entities, utilities and watchdog groups say a merger between Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid could harm both ratepayers and the environment unless protections are included. These entities filed testimony in a New Mexico Public Regulation Commission case evaluating the merger. This merger is subject to the PRC approval as well as approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. PNM’s parent company, PNM Resources, is seeking to merge with Avangrid, a U.S. subsidiary of renewable energy giant Iberdrola, which is based in Spain. The PRC hearings related to the merger are scheduled to start on May 3 and testimony has been filed expressing a variety of concerns.