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    Energy companies seek to make case in proposed merger


    December 6, 2021 - By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press

     

      ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Global energy giant Iberdrola, New Mexico’s largest electric utility and other groups on Monday asked state regulators to present oral arguments before a vote is taken on a proposed multibillion-dollar merger that would affect more than 500,000 customers and potentially the pace of renewable energy development in the state.

      The Public Regulation Commission has the final say on whether Iberdrola subsidiary Avangrid can acquire PNM Resources, and its two utilities — Public Service Co. of New Mexico and Texas New Mexico Power. The all-cash transaction has been valued at more than $4.3 billion and would open the door for Iberdrola and Avangrid in a state where more wind and solar power could be generated and exported to larger markets.

      A hearing examiner with the commission has recommended that the deal be rejected, and three of the five elected commissioners said last week they opposed approval.

      While critics argue that the merger would not be in the public interest given Avangrid's track record in other states, utility officials as part of an advertising blitz have been touting more than $300 million in rate relief for PNM customers, economic development investments, the creation of 150 jobs and other concessions reached through negotiations with parties in the case.

      All but one party either directly support the merger or don’t oppose it based on concessions agreed to by Avangrid.

      Commissioners during a meeting last week still questioned whether PNM’s customer service and reliability would deteriorate if the deal is approved and if state regulators could ensure Avangrid's compliance with all the negotiated agreements.

      Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM Resources' chair, president and CEO, said being able to make oral arguments before the commission would allow the parties to address any remaining issues in a transparent way. She called the decision before the commission critical.

      “We feel comfortable that throughout the process various parties in this case have raised the same questions and negotiated commitments to provide the appropriate safeguards and strengthened benefits to ensure our merger is the right move for customers, communities and economic development in New Mexico,” she said in a statement to The Associated Press.

      As part of the negotiated safeguards, PNM and Avangrid could face penalties for not meeting standards when it comes to reliability.

      The case has been a year in the making, with Public Regulation Commission hearing officer Ashley Schannauer spending several months overseeing evidence gathering and two weeks of public hearings during the summer.

      Schannauer last week presented his recommendation for the commission to veto the proposal. He also cited certain conditions commissioners should implement if they decide to support the merger. A final decision is expected this month.

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