PRC approves rate credits for PNM customers

Customers of the Public Service Company of New Mexico will likely get some money back on their bills thanks to the closure of the San Juan Generating Station. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission approved a settlement between various parties including PNM on Thursday that sets rate credits for customers going forward. Now it is up to the New Mexico Supreme Court to decide whether to dismiss the case, if PNM files a motion to dismiss. After that occurs, the rate credits could go into effect 30 days after the court order dismissing the case

Cydney Beadles with Western Resource Advocates, one of the parties to the settlement agreement, said PNM is already collecting the necessary signatures to file that motion. “It’s obvious that PNM wants to get this behind them and move forward,” she said.

NM Supreme Court hears arguments in the Avangrid/PNM merger case

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments Friday in the appeal of a decision by state regulators to reject a proposed merger between the Public Service Company of New Mexico and utility giant Avangrid. While the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission acknowledges that the proposed merger could bring benefits to New Mexicans, the commission argues in court filings that, unlike other approved merger cases, there was evidence that the merger could also harm ratepayers. In addition to the Avangrid, PNM and PRC attorneys, New Energy Economy also participated in the oral arguments. During the oral arguments, the PRC attorney argued that the decision was made based on balancing the potential benefits and potential harms to customers based on substantial evidence. Furthermore, the attorney argued that past merger cases cannot be looked to as templates because each merger case is unique and the facts and circumstances of the particular case are different.

Avangrid opponents say a merger with PNM will lead to higher rates, worse customer service

A group opposed to a proposed merger between utility giant Avangrid and the Public Service Company of New Mexico released a report on Thursday alleging that Avangrid has a history of poor customer service, including errors in billing, and high rates. State regulators previously rejected PNM’s application to merge with Avangrid, but that decision was appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case next week, which is scheduled for 9 am Sept. 15 in Santa Fe. 

The detailed report opponents released includes timelines of actions Avangrid or its parent company, the Spain-based Iberdrola, have taken that the opponents say harmed rate payers in the various utilities that the companies own. “If Avangrid were to enter the state, New Mexican ratepayers might find themselves echoing a mother in a modest apartment in the U.K. when she complained to a local news reporter in February 2023 after moving into an Iberdrola/Scottish Power controlled unit: ‘No one told us it was actually going to be four or even five times what we had been paying before for almost exactly the same house,'” the report concludes. 

Avangrid Renewables, which is cited in the report as trying to charge Massachusetts utilities more than previously agreed to for wind power, is already operating in New Mexico where it owns two wind farms.

Meanwhile, Avangrid signed an agreement earlier this year with Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to explore options for building up to one gigawatt of clean energy sources that can help bring electricity to areas of Navajo Nation that currently lack the infrastructure.

PRC kicks off lengthy hearing regarding proposal to raise PNM rates

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission kicked off its lengthy evidentiary hearing regarding Public Service Company of New Mexico’s  proposed rate increase for its  customers. The hearing will continue through Sept. 26. During the opening day of the hearing, Henry Monroy, PNM’s vice president of regulatory and corporate controller, answered questions about the proposed rate increase. These questions came primarily from lawyers representing intervening parties including the Coalition for Clean and Affordable Energy, New Mexico Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General.

PNM customers speak out against proposed rate increases

Nicole Maestas Olonovich, a resident of Albuquerque’s South Valley, has limited income at her disposal to help her and her one-year-old child. The mother and disabled veteran is concerned that increasing electric utility rates may lead to difficult decisions in the future. “A 10 percent increase for me would have been almost $40 this month,” she said. “As a disabled veteran and mother, that’s milk, diapers or gas.”

She was one of the Public Service Company of New Mexico customers who spoke out against proposed rate increases on Thursday, citing concerns about how the increases could strain budgets for low-income households. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission hosted a public comment meeting prior to the start of the evidentiary hearing regarding the rate increase.

How prepared are New Mexico utilities when it comes to cybersecurity?

Of the 26 utilities that responded to a bench request last year inquiring about cybersecurity practices, only four of them reported practices that are considered mature, meaning they are likely able to withstand threats. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission discussed the responses to the bench request and what steps should be taken next during its Thursday meeting. “We live in a society where utilities are light, or water or energy are deeply woven into our daily lives. These utilities like many things today are vulnerable to threats, not just physical, including environmental, but digital as well,” McLee Kerolle, a technical advisor, told the regulators. “Imagine waking up one day and finding your city in darkness due to a cyber attack.”

He highlighted examples of cybersecurity breaches in the past, including a 2020 hack into the PRC’s system that left its electronic docket down for several hours and a hack of a U.S. government contractor’s system that resulted in hackers obtaining data from hundreds of electric utilities.

PNM reaches settlement agreement in San Juan rate credits case

The Public Service Company of New Mexico announced on Friday that it reached a settlement agreement with state regulators and advocacy groups regarding rate credits associated with closing the San Juan Generating Station. The agreement calls for PNM customers to receive $115 million in bill credits over a one-year period of time. This will result in an average credit of $9.28 per month for residential customers, which the utility says is about 11 percent of the average bill. 

According to the press release, the customer credits come from PNM earnings. The customer rates will not be used to pay any part of the credit. 

Customers must also be protected from increasing interest rates on the securitization bonds that PNM is using to refinance past investments in the coal-fired power plants. The agreement is still pending approval from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

PRC looks to develop guidelines for utility participation in regional energy markets

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission wants to develop guidelines for utilities that want to join regional transmission organizations or similar partnerships aimed at distributing power across multiple utilities. These organizations can improve grid security by allowing utilities that do not have enough electricity to meet demands to purchase power from those that may have a surplus. This is done often on a day ahead basis. Commissioners voted Thursday to open a docket and request information from investor-owned utilities to help the regulators develop regulations and guidelines. Investor-owned utilities such as the Public Service Company of New Mexico and El Paso Electric will be the main entities impacted.

Federal grants support pipeline safety efforts in New Mexico

New Mexico will receive $1.1 million in federal funding for pipeline safety. The grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is a part of $64.4 million of funding the agency has made available nationwide to help states ensure underground pipelines and natural gas storage operations are safely operating. “These grants are critical to help states with the funding they need to carry out inspections and enforce pipeline safety regulations that keep our nation’s pipeline network as safe as possible,” PHMSA Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown said in a press release. “These grants ensure our state partners can continue to play an integral role in getting to our goal of zero safety and environmental incidents.”

In New Mexico, the Pipeline Safety Bureau is a division of the Public Regulation Commission, which is best known for regulating utilities. The bureau has seven full time inspectors, a supervisor and a bureau chief.

Community solar organizations are now able to enroll subscribers

The state’s community solar program has reached an important milestone: developers approved by the program administrator can begin enrolling subscribers. The program administrator, InClime, released subscriber disclosure forms to the developers on Tuesday. Rules developed by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission require community solar developers to use the same disclosure form. 

Community solar subscribers are people or businesses that opt to receive at least a portion of their power from a community solar array. 

Community solar is intended to benefit people who do not have the option to install rooftop solar. This includes low-income households, renters and people who live in apartments or townhouses. 

This form includes contract terms, including how much power the subscriber will receive and an estimation of when the subscriber may begin to receive power from the array. It also details the length of the term, what the subscriber must do to renew and how much it will cost to enroll as well as other details.