With their merger plan seemingly threatened, Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid want to speak directly to the Public Regulation Commission.
The two power companies hoping to merge in New Mexico say they want to make “oral arguments” to the five-member Public Regulatory Commission in the near future to clarify the merger’s benefits. Five organizations interested in the merger joined PNM, Avangrid of Connecticut and Iberdrola of Spain, Avangrid’s parent company, in the application filed Friday.
Pat Vincent-Collawn, president and CEO of PNM Resources, said in a written statement that the proponents wanted to make it clear why they think the merger is in the public interest.
Vincent-Collawn said that if the parties “are given the opportunity to respond directly to Commissioners’ questions, we will be able to address any remaining issues head-on and continue to provide the full transparency required by this process.”
PNM and Avangrid’s request said the deadline for requesting oral arguments had passed, but the companies said the commission could still allow them if they helped the PRC in the deliberations.
A commissioner said on Monday that requests for oral arguments are rare but can be made under PRC rules.
“I remember a couple of instances in my five years where we’ve had oral arguments,” Albuquerque Commissioner Cynthia Hall said. Hall also has experience as a lawyer for the PRC.
Commission President Stephen Fischmann de Las Cruces said this was “not the norm, but it is certainly within their rights to make this kind of request”.
Fischmann said commissioners would likely vote at a committee meeting on Wednesday on whether to open the case to oral argument.
This would prolong the decision on the merger plan as they would expect to open oral arguments from other organizations that are both for and against the proposal, Fischmann and Hall said.
The merger effort has been going on for a year and has included thousands of pages of testimony and reports and a seven-day public hearing in August.
Businesses and groups said in an official filing to the commission this month that key issues need to be fully addressed.
“Basically, this case raises the question of whether it is in the public interest” for the merger to take place, depending on the demand. But the issues are complex, as are the regulatory issues, the document adds.
“Frankly, we’ve written them all at this point,” Fischmann said on Monday of the issues.
Throwing another dive into detail could “create confusion rather than clarity,” he said.
“This is not the typical procedure,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll think about it. “
Hall said she read the pleadings in the case and understood them. She also said the commission had more cases to deal with this month and a full schedule at the end of the year.
Wednesday’s agenda includes what should be a lengthy discussion of PNM’s proposal to quit the Four Corners power plant. But Hall said sticking to the schedule does not outweigh the parties’ right to make their views known.
The demand for the merger of PNM and Avangrid encountered a series of difficulties. One is a 445-page hearing examiner’s burning report on the plan and his recommendation not to approve it. A hearing examiner serves as a quasi-judge in the panel’s deliberations, but the final decision rests with the five-member panel.
Regardless of the commission’s decision, the matter can be appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Another challenge for merger candidates is the fact that three of the five commissioners said last week that they did not think they could back the proposal. Among other problems, the service of Avangrid branches in the northeast has been criticized. In addition, Iberdrola’s CEO is under investigation by the Spanish authorities.
A lawsuit filed last week in New York City against Avangrid and Iberdrola could add more fuel, although Avangrid quickly counterattacked. The original lawsuit, filed by Pennsylvania cybersecurity firm Security Limits Inc., alleged that Avangrid and Iberdrola rigged the bids and stole intellectual property from the cybersecurity firm.
In its counter-suit, Avangrid backs Security Limits and its owner, Paulo Silva, attempted to extort Avangrid by threatening the company with public criticism if Avangrid did not grant him a new contract. Avangrid also charged the company with defamation in the counter-suit, filed on Saturday.
PNM, Avangrid and Iberdrola have pledged to provide clients with $ 67 million in interest rate loans and have offered the state contributions to economic development. They also pledged to create 150 jobs, write off some clients’ debts to PNM, and take many other pledges, helping to bring the total, they say, to around $ 300 million in profit.