Secret Energy: Public or Private?
From the Santa Fe New Mexican:
We Public Service Company of New Mexico “ratepayers” may be excused for feeling a bit dizzy. Each revelation as PNM attempts to avoid its duty as a public utility to serve the public interest is bad enough. PNM’s recurring foot-dragging, mission corruption and endless corporate spin are a mockery of public service.
PNM continues down the deadly path of high-carbon emissions through minimized legal compliance, tactical delays, reducing renewable energy credits to customers who install home solar systems and secrecy. The Public Regulation Commission mostly looks on deferentially, allowing PNM to continue its privatized violation of the public trust.
PNM’s analysis in its proposed plan for the pollution-laden San Juan Generating Plant was proven false by New Energy Economy. The plan’s long-term coal commitments entail huge public liabilities for intolerable carbon emissions at ever-increasing costs. It seeks to keep energy-supply contract decisions secret from the public while negotiating far more coal and nuclear power into “the mix” than is in the public interest.
Declaring “victory for the environment,” Western Resource Advocates and the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, “clean-energy” interveners in the case, along with PRC lawyer Patrick Lopez and New Mexico Assistant Attorney General P. Cholla Khoury have signed a “compromise” deal accepting PNM’s current plan and deferring whether coal-fired generation at San Juan should continue after 2022. Who works in the public interest?
Embarrassed, PNM and the PRC both withdrew from the strange PRC suit to stop The New Mexican from publishing relevant public yet “confidential” documents about the utility company’s contracts. Nobody in the PRC has admitted to having initiated the suit.
PNM acts as if a corporation enjoying guaranteed monopoly profits supplying services to the public has the right to keep from public view information related to its work for the state. PNM and the PRC gave flimsy arguments that disclosure of documents related to the proposed plan for the San Juan plant could do unspecified “irreparable harm” if disclosed. Harm to what/whom? Would corrupt practices be exposed? There are no “trade secrets” or competition from other companies relevant to the monopoly provision of service to the public. Secrecy is the ultimate weapon of corruption and a curse on democracy.
PRC actions are no less disturbing. Some PRC commissioners and staff met with a securities analyst, probably regarding PNM’s San Juan proposal — affecting PNM’s stock price. But high-end analyst-PNM executive lunches and private analyst meetings with PRC commissioners and staff? In Jon Stewart’s parting words, “If you smell something, say something.” Three of five commissioners voted to drop the PRC suit to prevent The New Mexican from publishing relevant documents. Who authorized the suit? Asked, but not answered.
Why are both PNM and the PRC trying to hide so much? Can a privatized corporation really serve the public interest? We know what privatized corporate-managed prisons got us: mass incarceration. We know where privatized corporate-managed pubic education leads: to mechanized teaching, demoralized educators and failing students.
New Mexicans simply cannot afford the wasted water, methane pollution, coal-dust diseases, nuclear liabilities, PNM’s profligate profiteering, or its cozy relationship with the PRC.
Certainly, converting from a private corporation like PNM to a publicly owned and operated service is complicated. Nevertheless, it is time for the people of New Mexico to look after their own interests and pressure the state to change the way it does the people’s business, especially where energy and a healthy environment are concerned.
Dr. Robert Christie is emeritus professor of sociology and founding director, Urban Community Research Center, California State University, Dominguez Hills. He lives in Santa Fe and blogs at TheHopefulRealist.com.