KRWG

Goodman: Protecting Las Cruces-Area Electric Customers May Become More Difficult

Apr 2, 2017

Credit peter goodman

Commentary: El Paso Electric made an interesting announcement recently: its plan to request a rate hike in 2018 in southern New Mexico will be delayed.

It's going ahead as planned in El Paso; but not here.

 

We owe gratitude to Merrie Lee Soules, Positive Energy Solar, Allen Downs, Rocky Bacchus of One Hour Air-Conditioning, and Steve Fischmann; but also to the City of Las Cruces and the County of Doña Ana. All those folks filed as intervenors in EPE's most recent cases; they questioned and rebutted EPE's “facts” with a clarity the PRC wouldn't have managed without them; and EPE apparently doesn't want to see them again real soon.

 

So when you pay your electric bill each month, thank these folks that it isn't higher.

 

Sadly, the County Commission moved to make it a little harder for the County to intervene next time around – and there's always a next time with EPE. A publically-traded corporation exists to make a profit. The current system means EPE gets paid off for capital expenditures. So EPE will do its damndest to built new power plants on very flimsy excuses.

 

Tuesday the Commission passed a resolution under which each time there's a new rate case, it'll require a vote by the commission to intervene. That sounds innocuous enough, and maybe it won't be a problem; but it's odd. These are 4,000-page cases. I'm doubting the commissioners will wade through that.

 

The general interpretation of Tuesday's action was that it was meant to pull County Manager Julia Brown's chain. The effect is that if EPE's timing is tricky or it can influence a couple of commissioners, our county commission will fall silent when the utility tries to rip us off.

 

Commissioner Billy Garrett said the intervenors saved county residents $7.5 million recently. He and Brown pointed out that in complex rate cases things change rapidly, and that Tuesday's change could cause the County to miss important deadlines. I completely agree.

 

Interestingly, when Garrett proposed an amendment, under which the Commission would have been informed in detail every two weeks and could instruct Brown accordingly, Commissioner John Vasquez (who had proposed the resolution) saw the wisdom in that. Three others didn't. Commissioner Ben Rawson moved Vasquez's original version, which passed 3-2.

 

The three new commissioners want to send Brown a message – but their chosen method could end up costing us money. One observer said Rawson might be trying to use the anti-Brown sentiment to help tilt the playing field to ease the utility's course. But Rawson, who voted for the 2015 resolution delegating the matter to Brown, said that when he asked about one matter there was confusion among county management about whether or not the County had intervened. Thus he felt the commission should tighten up control.

 

It seems sad, coming just days after folks at a Progressive Voters Alliance meeting had congratulated some of the intervenors, including the City and County. I hope the commissioners weren't acting in concert with the utility. I wonder if EPE will spend considerable sums to influence the results of local elections here. Electing commissioners and councillors who'd back off this intervention business could be real profitable.

 

Meanwhile, the Commission also looks poised to let Bowlin's sell fireworks. I hope Vasquez and Isabelle Solis recuse themselves from that vote. They might mean well, but collecting $2,500 in campaign money from Bowlin's, then voting for a dumb measure that would benefit Bowlin's, wouldn't look real good. 

 

During a local election in a rural county, $2500 is a lot of money. I hope EPE won't be asking what it buys.