The state Public Regulation Commission said Wednesday it will issue within 30 days a decision on a request by the state’s largest electric utility to raise consumers’ rates this fall, after nearly all parties in the case objected to reopening hearings.
The Public Service Company of New Mexico proposed a 15.8 percent rate hike earlier this year to cover its investments in nuclear power and energy-efficiency measures. In early August, Carolyn Glick, a hearing examiner for the commission, recommended instead a 6 percent increase, saying PNM hadn’t justified the higher rate. Commissioners offered to reopen the case so that PNM could present more evidence on why it needed the bigger increase, but the utility and other groups involved in the case objected to dragging it out further.
Only one industry group, the New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers, said it supported reopening the case.
PRC acting general counsel Michael Smith said Wednesday that as a result of the nearly “uniform” opposition to holding more hearings, “We are going to make a decision based on the recommended decision that was issued by Carolyn Glick.”
He said he expects a decision by Sept. 21 or Sept. 28. New rates are expected to take effect Oct. 1.
PNM has said that Glick’s recommendation would generate too little revenue, leading to hundreds of employee layoffs.
But members of the public said PNM’s claims that the lower rate would cause such harm are a form of extortion and that neither the utility nor the commissioners are putting customers’ interests first.
“New Mexicans are always last,” said Dinah Vargas of Albuquerque, pointing out that consumers don’t have a choice about who provides their power — or how much it costs. PNM is “trying to extort the best outcome for them and not the people.”
“They are profiting,” she said, “… and we have no alternative.”
Stella Padilla of Albuquerque told the commission that it is failing to represent the interests of low-income people, such as seniors and those who are disabled.
As a senior citizen living alone on Social Security income, her utility bills are already exorbitant, Padilla said.
“This is not working for the people,” she said. “… You should have a heart in your body, not a heart of steel.”
If the commission allows PNM to raise rates by the full amount it has requested, the company would receive an additional $123.5 million annually from consumers.
In legal filings Monday, company officials said they didn’t want to reopen the rate case hearings, which began in April, because they believe the utility has provided sufficient evidence that a $163.3 million purchase of nuclear power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona — as well as costs associated with energy-efficiency measures at the San Juan Generating Station in Farmington — are in the best interests of its customers.
But other groups involved, including the city of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and the nonprofit advocacy group New Energy Economy, said PNM had failed to fully evaluate the investment in nuclear energy before the purchase was finalized. They, too, objected to reopening the case, saying PNM didn’t deserve another chance to justify its request.