Firm’s record spurs concerns about New Mexico utility merger
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The track record of global energy giant Iberdrola’s U.S. subsidiary Avangrid has sparked concerns among utility regulators and others as the company seeks approval for a multibillion-dollar merger with New Mexico’s largest electric provider.
Ashley Schannauer, a hearing examiner with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, said during a meeting Tuesday that utilities owned by Avangrid have been assessed a total of $25 million in penalties and disallowances in the past 16 months for poor performance and customer service issues in Maine, Connecticut and New York.
While the information was disclosed in filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, Schannauer said Avangrid has been less than forthcoming with New Mexico regulators. He said the company failed to provide information about the enforcement actions in the other states as the Public Regulation Commission considers the company’s proposed merger with PNM Resources.
He also pointed to audits requested by regulators in Maine and Connecticut that are aimed at the organizational structure of Avangrid affiliates and utilities in those states.
He called the failure to disclose the information troubling, saying it’s relevant to the credibility of testimony provided by Avangrid’s witnesses in the merger case and the transparency by which Avangrid and PNM would conduct their business if the merger is approved.
“These enforcement actions are clearly relevant to the commission’s consideration of the request in this case in my opinion. Will there be similar problems in New Mexico if the merger is approved?” he asked.
Brian Haverly, an attorney for Avangrid, said the company has nothing to hide and will provide the information requested by the hearing examiner. The deadline was set for next Tuesday.
Staff members with the Public Regulation Commission in a filing Friday reiterated their concerns about the proposed merger. At issue is whether the deal is in the public’s interest.
Some critics have said a proposed settlement agreement between Connecticut-based Avangrid and PNM Resources — the parent company of Public Service Co. of New Mexico — doesn’t go far enough when it come to customer benefits or funds to support economic development in the state.
PNM and Avangrid announced concessions in April after their initial proposal failed to win the necessary support. The latest proposal includes $50 million in rate credits for customers, economic development donations of $7.5 million, additional money for energy efficiency assistance for low-income customers over five years, and promises of more jobs and being carbon-free by 2035.
Still, attorneys for some of the parties pointed Tuesday to Avangrid’s regulatory troubles, saying New Mexico customers deserve to be protected and that more is at stake here because PNM is a vertically integrated utility that owns its own transmission and generation infrastructure in addition to selling electricity to customers.
Peter Gould, an attorney for the New Mexico Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance, accused Avangrid of not negotiating in good faith. He said not providing New Mexico regulators with information about the enforcement actions is just one example.
“We have had very much difficulty in this case dealing with this company because they do not seem to understand that they have to play by the rules,” he said.
State Attorney General Hector Balderas, who serves as the top consumer advocate for New Mexicans, signed off on the proposed settlement agreement in April, saying improvements were made that would prioritize underserved tribal communities and provide more resources for union workers and coal miners affected by the planned closures of two coal-fired power plants in northwestern New Mexico.
Matt Baca, a spokesman for Balderas, said Tuesday that the attorney general will advocate for strong consumer protections as the case proceeds.
“New Mexico must have the highest customer service standards in addition to greater investment in impacted communities,” he said.