Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2014 7:00 pm
| Updated: 9:08 pm, Wed Dec 24, 2014.
By Milan Simonich
The New Mexican | 10 comments
An advocacy organization says two members of the state Public Regulation Commission should withdraw from a high-profile utility case because they fraternize with executives from Public Service Company of New Mexico.
New Energy Economy alleges that Commissioners Patrick Lyons, R-Clovis, and Karen Montoya, D-Albuquerque, have cozy, improper relationships with PNM, the company that supplies electricity to about 500,000 customers in New Mexico.
Mariel Nanasi, president of New Energy Economy, filed a motion Wednesday calling on both commissioners to recuse themselves from hearing PNM’s application to abandon two coal-fired units of the San Juan Generating Station and replace them with natural gas and nuclear power.
In an affidavit and 20 pages of supporting documents, Nanasi said the two commissioners have socialized with company executives that they are supposed to keep at arm’s length because they regulate PNM.
“PNM and some of our state utility regulators have completely corrupted that public faith,” Nanasi said.
Lyons called her allegations baseless and said they were politically motivated. Montoya could not be reached for comment on Christmas Eve.
Nanasi released snippets of a deposition she took from Ron Darnell, a PNM vice president, to support her allegations against Lyons and Montoya.
Her documents quoted Darnell as saying that Lyons had dined with PNM executives and attended a baseball game with one at the Texas Rangers stadium. Lyons was in the Dallas area at the time for a conference, according to Darnell’s account.
Nanasi also listed a series of calls between Lyons and PNM executives on Lyons’ commission-issued cellphone as an appearance of impropriety.
Montoya also dined with PNM staff members, Nanasi said. Nanasi also alleges that Montoya golfed with one PNM employee and, at the explicit request of another, held meetings at a Starbucks in Albuquerque instead of at the regulatory commission’s offices.
Nanasi said some of this information came from emails originally obtained from the Public Regulation Commission by the Rio Grande Sun.
Lyons, reached by telephone at his home, said he had done nothing wrong and would not withdraw from this or any other utility case. He called New Energy Economy’s allegations “just ridiculous.”
“They’re a very liberal organization that doesn’t take into consideration the ratepayers of New Mexico,” Lyons said. “They’re grabbing at straws, trying to push through a liberal agenda.”
Nanasi, though, said her motion is steeped in facts. Lyons and Montoya, she said, are so close to PNM that they cannot be objective and therefore should not hear the company’s proposal for the San Juan Generating Station.
The Public Regulation Commission is composed of five elected members. Lyons won election to a second four-year term in last month’s election. Montoya is in the middle of her first term.
Two newly elected members of the commission will take office in January. The fifth commissioner is Valerie Espinoza, D-Santa Fe, who often is at odds with Lyons and Montoya.
If Lyons and Montoya do not voluntarily withdraw from the hearing on the San Juan Generating Station, Nanasi said, her organization can ask the New Mexico Supreme Court to remove them based on conflicts of interest.
Lyons, though a critic of Nanasi and her group, recently said the Public Regulation Commission is dysfunctional and not focused enough on utility rate cases.
Though he was just re-elected seven weeks ago, Lyons said he would push for changing the commission from a five-member elected panel to three members appointed by the governor.