As the hearing at the NM Supreme Court began today, the justices appeared convinced that a review of the record requires them to uphold the PRC's decision to reject the PNM/Avangrid merger as not in the public interest. Avangrid's lawyer attempted to convince them otherwise. The rule that Avangrid's lawyer used to dress-up their "we lost and we don't like it" argument is called the "legal residuum rule". The legal residuum rule is good law and based on sound principle. It stands for the proposition that: in a hearing before an administrative agency there must be MORE than hearsay evidence as a basis for a decision. Hearsay evidence is allowed in administrative proceedings if it is relevant and competent evidence, and the Justices expressed healthy skepticism that the legal residuum rule applied in this case because there was "overwhelming" evidence of official reports, direct and expert testimony, along with documents provided, albeit reluctantly, by the Joint Applicants themselves.
The justices also questioned whether the case must be remanded back to the PRC on the basis of language in the Commission's final order requiring penalties to be paid by "Joint Applicants" as sanction for Avangrid's failure to respond accurately to discovery requests regarding fines and violations at Avangrid's other utilities. Avangrid's lawyer argued that PNM was improperly included in the sanction as one of the Joint Applicants. Mariel pointed out that the fine was ultimately paid by Avangrid so there was no actual penalty incurred by other entities, and that the Commission's language was therefore a harmless mistake that does not justify a remand of the case on its merits. Furthermore, she pinpointed in the record where according to PNM's sworn statement, PNM made a judgement call and decided NOT to reveal the violations and fines - so shouldn't they be held responsible for their decision?
The last issue focused on whether it was improper for the Hearing Examiner to admit and the Commissioners to consider the then pending criminal investigation in Spain of Iberdrola’s top management for corruption, bribery and falsification of documents. The Justices appeared to be troubled, in particular, with the statements of a former Commissioner during an open meeting that may have appeared to assume guilt. Mariel argued that: 1) consideration of the criminal investigation was proper 2) that the investigation definitely influenced the Hearing Examiner's and the Commissioners' decision, but that it was evident from the Final Order that the criminal investigation was not the basis for their decision.
We look forward to the Court's affirmation that the PRC's decision against the PNM Avangrid merger was based on sound evidence and that the PRC properly found that the merger was not in the public interest.
NEWS COVERAGE OF ORAL ARGUMENTS AT THE SUPREME COURT
Legal decision on Avangrid-PNM merger still pending - Abq Journal
State Supreme Court hears arguments on rejected 2021 utility merger - SF New Mexican
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO SHOWED UP AND SPOKE OUT FOR REAL CLIMATE SOLUTIONS YESTERDAY
Photo by Chancey Bush for the Albuquerque Journal
YUCCA and the NM No False Solutions Coalition organized the march in solidarity with climate strikes taking place worldwide during the month of September, and to demand that New Mexico leaders and legislators reject false climate solutions like hydrogen, nuclear energy and carbon capture, and instead invest in a just transition to 100% renewable energy that benefits the people. Culminating outside the hotel where a $200 per person "Advanced Energy" summit was pimping out our land, water and resources for further extraction and exploitation by the likes of Conoco Phillips and Avangrid, the marchers demanded that New Mexico keep fossil fuels in the ground where they belong.
A news report about the summit and protest quoted a summit organizer saying "There's room at the table for everyone." Later in the article they explain that the reason no environmental organizations were invited to participate in panel discussions reflected the effort to maintain a "nonpartisan" focus. Apparently industry took up all the room at the table.
The Abq Journal published an amazing collection of photos from the march yesterday: Hundreds protest outside The Clyde Hotel during the Climate Strike Rally and March - Abq Journal
FINALLY, WHEN WE ARRIVED BACK AT OUR OFFICE TODAY WE FOUND AN ANONYMOUS GIFT!
This satirical masterpiece skewers PNM, Avangrid and the monopoly utility system that is holding New Mexicans hostage. Every page is priceless! Whoever created this, we thank you for your wit and wisdom and all the hard work you put into this, and we plan to share your creation strategically with those who will appreciate and benefit from the painful truth it exposes.
"They are simply jacked, says PNM CEO Patricia Vincent-Collawn, with a huge balance sheet and potent access to capital. She joked about PNM's relationship with the giant utility company shortly after the first merger hearing. "Some people call it 'big brother,' she told the Santa Fe New Mexican in 2021. " I say, 'rich boyfriend,"
"Jason is interested in business and hopes to build his own state-sanctioned monopoly someday, and to own all of his classmates belongings."
Heard on the Street: "I'm excited to see if they can duplicate what they did in Maine and New York - the lawsuits, the overcharging, the poor customers service. I know they have a lot on their plate, but it seems like they are up to the task of really messing things up here."
"Help Wanted: Responsibilities Include: Mismanaging resources, prioritizing internal stakeholders, negotiation skills with plausible deniability of fraud or extortion, collecting bills by any means necessary."
"PNM's Albuquerque headquarters was overwhelmed last Friday by a crowd of customers lining up to make higher payments. If rates are going to rise after the PNM-Avangrid merger, they reasoned, their budgeting might as well adjust as soon as possible."
"The Connecticut Attorney General filed a report in opposition to Avangrid's employee caregiving benefits, including petsitting and dog walking, totaling $60,000 footed by Connecticut ratepayers last year."
Whoever you are, thanks for ending our day with much needed laughter.