By Tom Sharpe
Your electric bill isn’t likely to go up in May, but it might by July.
The state Public Regulation Commission on Thursday rejected Public Service Company of New Mexico’s request for an interim rate increase of 5.7 percent beginning May 15.
But the electric utility’s request for a permanent increase of the same amount remains pending before the commission, where hearings are set to begin May 9.
The commissioners voted 4-0 to reject the interim hike Thursday morning. Commissioner Jerome Block Jr., who represents most of the Santa Fe area, did not attend.
Commissioner Jason Marks of Albuquerque said the vote was based on the commissioners’ beliefs that the request didn’t meet their mandate to grant interim increases only in cases involving “irreparable harm” or “extraordinary circumstances.”
“It didn’t rise to that level,” he said. “They didn’t make it over the bar, and if we did (grant the interim increase), we would be deviating from practice … where interim-rate relief is granted only in circumstances where it’s really needed.”
Marks said the rejection doesn’t reflect on the merits of PNM’s request for permanent rate hikes, beginning with 5.7 percent or about $45 million. If the commission votes in May to approve that, he said, the higher rates could begin in July.
“It’s hard to say this is extraordinary circumstances with irreparable harm when we’re talking about two months’ difference,” he said.
In addition to the $45 million boost, PNM seeks to raise its revenues by another $40 million on Jan. 1 plus another $20 million for capital costs by 2013.
PNM spokeswoman Susan Sponar said the request for an interim increase was the result of a stipulated agreement between PNM and six groups that intervened in the rate case.
“We’re disappointed, of course, but we’ll continue to work through the regulatory process,” she said. “The rate increase itself is important to our ability to continue to provide reliable service to our customers. That’s the reason we made the request.”
A group called New Energy Economy issued a news release Thursday that said opposition to the increase from groups representing consumers, environmentalists and businesses played a big part in Thursday’s vote.
“PNM wanted to ram an outrageous $45 million rate hike down peoples’ throats without any evidence that they were entitled to it and the PRC rightfully denied PNM’s blatant money grab,” said New Energy Economy’s executive director, Mariel Nanasi.
PNM’s two coal-fired plants are among the country’s dirtiest and most outdated, she said.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.