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Watchdogs: PNM to "Pour More Gas" on Already Hot Home Energy Rates

June 28, 2007

PNM wants to raise home heating rates to cover increased costs, but community advocates say low-income New Mexicans are the ones really feeling the pinch from higher energy prices. The Public Regulation Commission is set to approve or deny the utility's request to raise gas rates in the state today. Jami Porter-Lara with Community Action New Mexico says a quarter of PNM's customers can't afford their bill already.

“To make things worse, PNM has a number of unproductive and unfair consumer practices that makes bills even more unaffordable for customers who may fall behind.”

Those practices include charging interest rates higher than most credit cards on past-due bills, according to Porter-Lara. A few of the commissioners are expected to request an investigation into PNM's customer practices and possibly prohibit the company from charging late fees. PNM claims it was given the legal right to charge the late fees by the PRC.

Porter-Lara notes that families' take-home income hasn't been able to keep up with skyrocketing energy costs in recent years.

“This is not a problem of individual customers. It's not a budgeting problem. It's that bills and prices of energy have simply gotten too high for a significant number of families in New Mexico to afford.”

She believes New Mexico should follow the lead of other states that help low-income families with high-energy bills. She adds that the state could also help weatherize homes and make them more energy-efficient.

The commissioners are expected to grant some rate increase, but perhaps not all the utility originally requested. PNM says it needs the additional funds to cover rising operational, maintenance and other costs.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM