By Steve Terrell | The New Mexican
The state Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to allow Public Service Company of New Mexico to collect an additional $4.7 million from customers.
The $4.7 million is on top of a PNM rate increase approved last week by the commission.
The bottom line of the commission’s action: PNM customers will see a rate increase of an estimated 1.4 percent phased in over two years, a spokesman for the electric utility said. A previous estimate was 1.5 percent. PNM initially had requested 14 percent in the rate case, which began last year.
The Public Regulation Commission voted last week against a PNM request that would have allowed it to charge customers for more than $9 million in improvements at the Four Corners Power Plant in northwestern New Mexico. PNM countered with a proposal to permit it to recover $4.7 million.
At a hearing Wednesday, members of the Public Regulation Commission and commission staff members said the decision to prohibit any recovery by PNM for the plant improvements was correct.
However, Commissioner Patrick Lyons, R-Cuervo, said that allowing PNM to collect the extra money would be less expensive than fighting the utility in court.
But Commissioner Valerie Espinoza, D-Santa Fe, was critical of the utility’s request.
“This isn’t a negotiation,” she said. “It’s not like we’re buying a house. They can’t make counteroffers.”
Lyons and Commissioners Sandy Jones, D-Williamsburg, and Linda Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint, voted to accept PNM’s request. Espinoza and Commissioner Cynthia Hall, D-Albuquerque, voted against it.
Though the commission voted to approve the extra money for PNM, it rejected part of the company’s proposal.
PNM’s proposal included a line that said, “If any party appeals the final decisions of the commission, PNM reserves the right to respond in accordance with New Mexico Appellate Rules through cross appeal.”
Commission lawyer Michael Smith said the language would allow the utility to sue the commission even after the company agreed to the terms of the rate case.
PNM and other parties to the rate case have until Friday to accept or reject the action by the Public Regulation Commission.
It appears the rate case will end up in court no matter what PNM does.
Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe clean-energy advocacy group, said she intends to appeal the commission’s decision.
“Consumer protection is the bedrock of regulatory oversight and we must appeal in order to shield New Mexicans from PNM’s power grab,” she said after the PRC meeting. “The evidence was overwhelming against PNM’s imprudent investment at Four Corners and we rely on regulators to hold PNM accountable, but unfortunately in this instance the PRC reversed its decision to do so.”
In May, following objections to PNM’s original rate increase request from environmental groups, government agencies and businesses, PNM agreed to lower the request to about 9 percent over two years. Last week, PNM said it would support an increase of only about 2 percent — a move made possible by the lower corporate income tax rates signed into law by President Donald Trump.