We've wrapped up day 3 of the evidentiary hearing. We've enjoyed hearing from those of you who are following the hearing on YouTube as they unfold - thank you for your dedication and interest. AND, we know many folks aren't able to dedicate the time and so we wanted to send a report back and week 1 wrap-up. First, as we shared on Tuesday - the Public Hearing on Monday was filled with amazing testimony from across the state challenging Avangrid/Iberdrola's record and conduct where they operate, advocating for greater benefits for ratepayers, impacted communities, and our state as a whole, and questioning why we would choose to move into the next phase of energy transformation with a Wall Street traded profit-driven multinational corporation at the helm. Bravo to all those that testified! If you missed it, checkout our eblast from Tuesday where we feature the clip from their former contractor who affirmed the criminal allegations they face in Spain for espionage. It was scathing! Our goal in the evidentiary hearing has been to shine a light on the issues through our cross-examination of key witnesses. The evidentiary hearing is a critical opportunity to point out the contradictions, inequities, and glaring issues like Avangrid's record of unreliability, corruption and disrespect for the law. Highlights:
Four Corners transfer to NTEC with assurances against any vote for early closure is a precondition of the merger along with $300 million from ratepayers for the toxic asset.
Avangrid/Ibedrola will walk away from the deal if the Commission requires them to have an independent board.
3 PNM Executives will make $30 million from the deal while ratepayers will receive $1.64 credit every month for 3 years. This while 33,500 New Mexicans face electricity disconnection because of the COVID-19 crisis and PNM has said it will begin disconnecting 500 New Mexicans per day starting Monday.
Avangrid is in trouble in every state where they operate, with the federal regulatory agency, in Latin America, and in Spain - with fines for regulatory noncompliance, and criminal allegations peppered throughout their history.
Avangrid is being investigated for intentionally undermining rooftop and community solar in Maine.
BLOW BY BLOW On the first day, Mariel cross examined Pedro Azagra Blazquez, Iberdrola's Corporate Development Director and a board member of Avangrid, questioning him about violations, market manipulation, fraud investigations and the absurd fiction that the Four Corners Abandonment case is unrelated to the merger. She made clear using their own documents that Avangrid and Iberdrola set as a merger requirement - the offloading of Four Corners. Mr. Azagra Blazquez affirmed his knowledge that the agreement to transfer their Four Corners share to NTEC includes a provision that prevents any vote for early closure. So the coal will keep on burning. He also affirmed that the $300 million PNM for undepreciated assets that PNM is putting on the ratepayer's tab is part of the merger agreement.
Yesterday, Tim Davis, our new attorney, cross examined (or as the SF New Mexican put it, "hammered") Robert Kump, Avangrid Deputy CEO and President, continuing some of the same lines of questioning, including this priceless exchange that illustrates perfectly the kind of obstruction that we are facing:
Tim's cross examination also covered unreliability, regulatory non-compliance, safety violations, poor customer service and their extensive investment in Political Action Committees to influence legislative and public decision making. One of the most important pieces of evidence that Tim was able to highlight was that Avangrid/Iberdrola WILL NOT ACCEPT an independent board. Mr Kump named it as a deal breaker. New Mexicans want to control our own energy future and want to protect against decision-making that privileges profit for shareholders. Yet the Avangrid/Iberdrola merger requires that we hand that authority and control over to a board with majority of members with financial interests in the company - even though the management audits advise against this. Bernalillo County and PRC staff share our concerns about this issue in the case and did a great job on their cross-examinations.
Commissioner Cynthia Hall questioned Mr Kump about Avangrid's approach to community and distributed solar, leading to this fascinating exchange in which Mr Kump admits they are "learning on the fly," and discusses the company's reliance on hydroelectric power (not so green!), hydrogen power (not clean!), and nuclear power (obscene!): (three separate clips here for the purpose of brevity)
In fact Avangrid is being investigated for intentionally undermining rooftop and community solar in Maine.
In the most recent example of violations cited in the case, just two days ago a judge in Maine vacated a lease of public land for an Avangrid transmission line project for failure to consult the public and obtain necessary permissions from the Maine Public Utility Commission or the legislature, as required by law. This is not just about reliability, rates, and treating customers with fairness and transparency, it is also about Avangrid's failure to be forthcoming to the commissions that regulate them and their failures to abide by law.
I’m sure they are celebrating in Maine that a judge has acted to protect their pristine forest. We are concerned that if they are allowed to purchase PNM, Avangrid will behave with the same disrespect to the people and land of New Mexico. Avangrid admitted yesterday under questioning from the Hearing Examiner that their reason for pursuing the merger with PNM is just as we said: to use PNM as a "beachhead" for capitalizing on our renewable resources, not to our benefit!
The hearing is making it even more clear that this merger has many risks and adverse effects on ratepayers, prohibits support for early closure of the Four Corners coal plant, and inhibits New Mexicans from controlling our own energy future . The good news is - it's not our only option! We would be much better off with a professional and accountable Public Power authority who would work to upgrade the grid to OUR benefit and allow thousands of individuals, small businesses and communities to participate in developing a resilient distributed power grid!