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New Mexico regulators propose smaller electric rate hike

Jan 10, 2018

Credit pnm.com

  ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico regulators on Wednesday proposed a smaller rate hike for customers of the state's largest electric provider while backtracking on a finding that questioned coal-related investments by Public Service Co. of New Mexico.

A divided Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 following a hearing in Santa Fe regarding a contentious and lengthy case. The panel's proposal would still need to be considered by consumer and industry groups and other parties that have been negotiating with the utility.

The commission could take up the matter again as soon as next week.

Commissioners during Wednesday's hearing expressed frustration with the process after already having approved a 9 percent rate increase in December and finding that the utility should not be allowed to recoup certain coal-related investments because the costs were found to be imprudent.

"This commission is tired of what has gone on here," chairman Sandy Jones declared before the panel voted on the latest proposal.

Jones and commissioners Patrick Lyons and Lynda Lovejoy voted in favor, while Valerie Espinoza and Cynthia Hall opposed it.

Under the measure, regulators would take up the question about whether the utility's investments in coal were prudent in a future proceeding.

A reduced rate hike of about 2 percent also is outlined in the proposal. The utility had initially asked for a 14 percent hike.

The change in the rate stems from the recent federal tax overhaul. Utility officials told the commission that customers would benefit because the utility wouldn't need to raise as much revenue thanks to lower corporate taxes that are part of the Republican tax plan that President Donald Trump signed into law last month.

The proposal also relies heavily on an agreement that had been reached by several parties last year. The utility reiterated to the commission Wednesday that the agreement represents a "good deal for customers."

"There is a path forward," said Rick Alvidrez, an attorney representing the utility.

Other supporters also spoke in favor of the previous agreement, noting that it had broad support from a wide contingent of consumer advocates, industry groups, environmentalists and the state attorney general's office.

One group, New Energy Economy, has opposed the part of the agreement that pertains to coal investments. It has argued that the utility's financial analysis of the costs and benefits of keeping the Four Corners Power Plant running was flawed and that ratepayers shouldn't be saddled with the bill.

"It is not OK for PNM to come in, cry wolf and say 'Gosh, it's going to hurt our business.' If they wanted to do things in a prudent fashion under your laws, we wouldn't be here," New Energy Economy executive director Mariel Nanasi told the commission.

Others argued that fighting over whether the commission declares the utility's decisions imprudent would not ultimately affect customers.

"No one in the case agreed that PNM's actions with respect to Four Corners were prudent. That's probably the easiest issue," said Steven Michel with Western Resource Advocates. "What's the remedy? That's the piece that is so critical, so difficult."

Utility officials declined to comment Wednesday, saying they were still reviewing the commission's proposal.