Hearing Examiner orders PNM to hand over files in PRC case

A Public Regulation Commission hearing examiner in PNM’s case involving a coal-fired power plant ruled Friday that the utility must turn over documents to a group opposing plans for the plant — including any communications with state regulators and any records showing whether PNM had a role in arranging meetings earlier this year between commissioners and a New York stock analyst.

Hearing examiner Ashley Schannauer ruled that because of the significance of Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plans for the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, it is “in the public interest to provide transparency and full disclosure on this issue.”

PNM’s plans for San Juan involve closing two of the plant’s four coal power units and replacing the lost capacity with more coal from another unit at the plant, as well as natural gas, nuclear power and other energy sources. The proposal has drawn criticism from groups that say it doesn’t include enough renewable energy.

Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, an alternative energy group that has intervened in the San Juan case, applauded Schannauer’s order. The group has been trying to get PNM to turn over any communications between the PRC and the state’s largest utility. New Energy Economy also has sought information on Anthony Crowdell, a stock analyst with the investment firm Jefferies LLC, who met with at least two PRC members shortly before upgrading PNM’s stock rating in late May.

Asked for comment about the order, a spokeswoman for PNM said the utility “has been earnest, straightforward and fully complied with all proceedings orders in this case. We disagree with the legal analysis in the order, and we are considering our options, including asking the commission to review it. If the order stands ,PNM will fully comply.”

Schannauer noted in his order that PNM has denied engaging in “improper ex parte communications” in the case. Commissioners also have denied any improper meetings. Like judges in court cases, PRC members are forbidden from directly communicating outside of public hearings with parties involved in their cases.

Late last year, New Energy Economy tried to force two commissioners — Chairwoman Karen Montoya, D-Albuquerque, and Patrick Lyons, R-Cuervo — to recuse themselves from the San Juan case because of alleged contact with PNM officials. Both commissioners denied any improper communications with PNM and refused to recuse themselves.

But both Lyons and Montoya verified last month, however, that they had talked with Crowdell, the analyst, at separate meetings in their offices. PRC Chief of Staff Vincent Martinez also said he had met with the analyst. The commission’s general counsel, Michael Smith, sat in on the meeting with Crowdell and Lyons, while Montoya was accompanied by Robert Hirasuna, a former general counsel who now works as the administrative assistant for Commissioner Sandy Jones.

Lyons said last month that the analyst seemed most interested in the city of Farmington’s role in the power plant. Farmington had looked into the possibility of acquiring additional capacity in the San Juan facility but then decided against it. The city remains a co-owner of the plant.

Montoya said Crowdell mainly wanted to talk about another PNM case before the commission that isn’t directly related to the San Juan plans.

PNM had objected to divulging information regarding the stock analyst “on the grounds that the communications have no evidentiary value or bearing on the issues before the commission in this proceeding.” The company also said it objected because it believes the information is being sought “for the purpose of seeking disqualification of a commissioner.”

But Schannauer said PNM would have to turn over any documents it has concerning Crowdell since Jan. 1. He said PNM’s answers “may provide evidence of personal bias or prejudice and prejudgment” and could be relevant “to a potential violation of the Open Meetings Act.”

PNM also was ordered to turn over any information it has concerning meetings with specific analysts from Moody’s, another company that rates bonds.

Schannauer on Friday denied PNM’s request to limit the scope of questions in an upcoming deposition for Ron Darnell, the utility’s senior vice president for public policy. New Energy Economy had sought communications between Darnell and San Juan partners, government officials, commissioners and staff, investment analysts and credit rating agencies.

By Steve Terrell lThe New Mexican | Posted: Friday, July 17, 2015 10:30 pm

 

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