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Hearing examiner rejects utility's plan to raise rates



A state hearing examiner on Friday rejected a plan by New Mexico's largest electric provider that called for raising rates for residential and business customers and charging more for new solar customers to connect to the grid.

The finding followed an outcry from environmentalists, one of the state's largest water utilities and others who accused Public Service Co. of New Mexico of failing to provide state regulators with enough information to justify a proposed 12 percent rate increase.

The groups, in recent filings with the state Public Regulation Commission, argued that PNM's application was incomplete and offered no explanation for some of the expenses the utility expected in future years.

It will be up to the commission to make a final decision on the recommendation outlined by hearing examiner Carolyn Glick.

PNM officials were reviewing the recommendation. Spokesman Pahl Shipley said the utility disagrees with Glick and plans to make its case before regulators.

Mariel Nanasi, a vocal critic of PNM and executive director of New Energy Economy, said she was pleased with the recommendation. She said the utility is required by law to provide a transparent basis for the figures it uses to justify a rate hike.

"PNM's $100 million rate increase as filed skirts the law and the public deserves full disclosure," she said.

PNM argued just last month that its application was complete and supported with detailed information.

The utility asked regulators to approve an increase to help cover the costs of new solar-power generating stations, federally mandated pollution controls at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station and other infrastructure. The increase also would have helped to cover declines in demand that have resulted from energy conservation efforts and the sluggish economy.

The increase would generate more than $107 million in revenue, which would help the utility as it works to recover $585 million in investments that have been made since July 2010 or will be made through 2016.

Under the request, residential customers could have seen their monthly bills jump by $9.75 starting in January 2016.

PNM also proposed changes to its rooftop solar program, which included charging customers with new solar power systems a monthly fee ranging from $21 to $36 to connect to the grid.

The state attorney general's office weighed in earlier this week on that provision and asked that state regulators investigate the effects roof-top solar and wind turbines installed at homes and businesses have on the utility's system.


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