PRC rejects argument that state law requires approval of full decoupling

Asan increasing number of people install solar panels on their houses or make energy efficiency upgrades, the amount of electricity utilities sell may go down. This can impact the utility’s revenue streams, even as costs of maintaining and upgrading infrastructure remain. One way to address this is known as decoupling and the state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, argued that a 2019 amendment to the state’s Efficient Use of Energy Act requires the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to approve applications for full decoupling. Decoupling is essentially a mechanism that removes the incentive for a utility to sell as much electricity as possible by reducing or eliminating the need to sell a certain amount of power to cover the fixed costs like maintenance and upgrades. During its Wednesday meeting, the commission unanimously rejected PNM’s argument, instead adopting a decision recommended by Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros.

PRC approves community solar rule

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved an order on Wednesday adopting a rule for community solar. The rulemaking process began following the passage of the Community Solar Act last year, which set a deadline of April 1 for the PRC to adopt rules. Community solar allows for developers to build small arrays to provide solar energy to subscribers who might otherwise not have access to renewable energy. 

After Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law last year, the PRC formed an action team that provided input on the provisions of the rule prior to adoption. An ad-hoc group led by the Coalition for Community Solar Access also provided input after hosting a series of meetings discussing topics like scoring criteria and minimum bid requirements. The ad-hoc group was not sanctioned by the PRC, but allowed the groups to align their positions in the formal comments that were submitted to the PRC during the process.

Arizona regulators ask NM PRC to join discussions about coal-impacted communities

Arizona regulators have asked the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for input during policy discussions about coal-impacted communities, PRC Utility Division Director John Reynolds told commissioners during a Tuesday meeting. Arizona utilities, including Arizona Public Service Company and Tucson Electric Power, have received power from coal-fired generating stations in northwest New Mexico. As the coal-fired power plants in both New Mexico and Arizona are preparing for closures, the Arizona Corporation Commission is looking at the economic impacts those closures will have on the communities where the plants are located. Reynolds said the ACC’s utility division reached out to the PRC and asked if PRC representatives could attend policy task force discussions starting this week. Reynolds said he plans to attend those meetings and he will be reporting back to the New Mexico regulatory commission. 

Reynolds said Arizona’s regulatory commission has more of a “blank slate” than the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission had when considering the closure of the San Juan Generating Station.

PNM asks to continue San Juan Generating Station operations through September

Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) plans to continue operations of unit four of the San Juan Generating Station through Sept. 30 to avoid power shortages this summer. The state’s largest utility announced its plans on Thursday and is seeking approval from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. In an interview with NM Political Report, Vice President of Generation Tom Fallgren said PNM needs the PRC’s approval by March 25 to provide adequate notice to Westmoreland Coal Company, the owner of the San Juan Mine, which provides the power plant with coal. If the extension is not approved, mining at the San Juan Mine will end March 26.

Utilities appeal PRC decisions to the state Supreme Court

As utilities race to meet renewable energy targets set forth in the Energy Transition Act, two of the state’s investor-owned utilities have asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to review decisions the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has made in cases that they say will impact their transition. The Public Service Company of New Mexico appealed the final orders in both the Four Corners Power Plant ownership transfer and the Avangrid merger. Southwestern Public Service Company appealed the final order in its renewable portfolio standard case in which the PRC rejected its request for a financial incentive to retire renewable energy certificates early so that it could reach renewable energy targets early. PNM filed the appeal on the Four Corners Power Plant transfer on Dec. 22.

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.

State utility regulators look toward increased adoption of electric vehicles

Utility regulators in New Mexico are preparing for increasing use of electric vehicles in the state and, while they have approved transportation electrification plans for the three investor-owned utilities in New Mexico, they say there is still more work to do. New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Joseph Maestas spoke about the need for a rulemaking process for electric transportation and said the PRC must plan for the $38 million that New Mexico will receive for charging infrastructure under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Maetas offered these comments during the PRC’s meeting last week following the approval of two transportation electrification plans. 

Southwestern Public Service Company, Public Service Company of New Mexico and El Paso Electric were required to submit transportation electrification plans to the PRC by the start of this year under the PRC Application for Public Safety law that passed the state Legislature in 2019. All three utilities filed these applications in 2020 and these plans have now been adopted. SPS’s plan received PRC approval in September and, on Nov.

PRC hearing examiner recommends approval of PNM’s Four Corners shares transfer to NTEC

While environmental advocacy groups are concerned that transferring Public Service Company of New Mexico’s 13 percent ownership share in the Four Corners Power Plant to Navajo Transitional Energy Company will lead to continued or increased emissions, a hearing examiner for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission recommended last week that the state regulators approve that transfer. The hearing examiner, Anthony Medeiros, recommended that the state regulators approve PNM’s application to transfer its shares in the coal-fired power plant to NTEC in 2024. About a year ago, PNM announced the plans to sell its 13 percent share to NTEC, a Navajo Nation enterprise, for $1 and to pay NTEC $75 million to assume its obligations under the coal supply agreement. The PNM shareholders are paying the $75 million. PNM claims that transferring its ownership shares to NTEC will save customers $30 million to $300 million.

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.