POWERFUL TESTIMONY FROM REP. SETH BERRY, A MAINE LEGISLATOR AND UTILITY EXPERT
On Tuesday New Energy Economy filed a Verified Statement from Representative Seth Berry, a Maine legislator since 2006 and House Chair of the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology in Maine. Rep. Berry has extensive experience and knowledge of Avangrid's business practices in Maine, and recently introduced bi-partisan legislation to adopt a non-profit consumer owned utility model to save Maine ratepayers $9 billion over the first 30 years, and to secure Maine's electricity grid.
His testimony about the harms that Mainers have faced at the hands of Avangrid, their efforts to kill rooftop and community solar in Maine, the corrupt strong arm tactics used by the company to force a transmission line through the state from Canada to Massachusetts, and the substantial risks resulting from ceding control of an essential public service to a foreign company concludes with this powerful statement:
"To quote my colleague Senator Rick Bennett (R, Oxford), former Senate President: “Electricity is the lifeblood of Maine homes and businesses, and it is becoming more important every day. Right now, foreign governments and foreign corporations own Maine’s major utility monopolies. This ownership model has been a disaster, leaving Maine with the most outages, the longest outages, the worst customer service, and among the highest rates in the country.” Electrification of our entire economy will mean total dependence on the grid. We would not entrust our schools or fire departments to for-profit, distantly-owned monopolies. Nor should we do so with our utilities.”
At first blush, we were excited that Avangrid, the “Exxon of Renewables,” would come to NM and replace PNM's slow walk on climate change, but then we learned of their terrible electric utility record: worst reliability, worst forced outage rate, among the highest residential rate charges in the country, and violations for “corruption and fraud.” After Avangrid purchased Central Maine Power it has been at the very bottom of customer satisfaction surveys among all utilities in the U.S. for three years in a row, 2018, 2019, 2020! Yes, we are desperate for renewable energy, but not desperate enough to settle for Avangrid. A more democratic, publicly owned utility model is possible and preferable.
On May 13th Hearing Examiner Ashley Schannauer ordered Avangrid to provide a list of penalties, violations and enforcement actions against the company and its subsidiaries by state and federal regulatory agencies. Avangrid responded with more than 2500 pages of documentation detailing more than 200 violations at eight subsidiaries. Further research uncovered details about ethical and legal violations by parent company Iberdrola SA in Europe, Mexico and South America as well. Taken together the evidence points to a significant risk that under Avangrid, the quality of utility service in NM will be severely diminished.
Our response to Avangrid's excuses for omitting their violations from discovery:
“Joint Applicants’ Response reads as an antiseptic and cold-hearted document; if one didn’t know better, one might think that Avangrid was being penalized for failure to accurately account for products on a shelf, not human lives left without access to what is now considered a basic human right: electricity to keep one’s dialysis machine operating or death due to electricity disconnection, or because RG&E (another Avangrid subsidiary) failed to abide by the Commission’s Order regarding pole attachments, which violated requirements to ensure worker safety and structures during installation, operation, and maintenance for communication lines attaching to utility poles, and or that electricity took far too long to restore due to inadequate manpower (resulting in certain instances to no access to warm food or heat, disruptions in communications, or caused food spoilage and water contamination).”
The conduct of utility companies has real and significant implications for the well-being and safety of customers. The merger agreement must now be evaluated not only on the financial implications of the deal, but also its potential impact on quality of service in New Mexico and the human cost if that quality is diminished.
The Hearing Examiner today issued an order citing Rep. Seth Berry's Verified Statement and requiring Avangrid to clarify whether CMP now meets the "Fitness to Serve" criteria in Rep. Seth Berry's proposed legislation.
He further raised the question that we have been asking for years: Is it a public benefit to have a locally owned community choice energy model? The hearing date was set for August 11th.