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Groups Give PNM Electric-Rate Hikes Mixed Reviews

Conservation groups disputed the environmental value of equipment PNM installed at the San Juan Generating Station, so it was not part of the recent rate increase. (Western Resource Advocates)
Conservation groups disputed the environmental value of equipment PNM installed at the San Juan Generating Station, so it was not part of the recent rate increase. (Western Resource Advocates)
September 30, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Conservation groups are giving mixed reviews to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission's decision to let the power company, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), increase electric bills in the northern, more urban areas of the state. PNM wanted to raise the minimum service charge from $5 to $13, but the commission set it at $7 a month.

Mona Blaber, communications director for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that increase is more reasonable, but the commission also allowed PNM to hike customers' electric bills between $6 and $10 a month, to recover costs for decisions Blaber finds to be questionable.

"Several of the questions in this rate case really involved whether PNM should be held accountable for making decisions without prior approval, and not really justifying that they were in the best interest of ratepayers," she said.

For instance, Blaber said PNM bought power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station without comparing the costs to other sources of energy. And PNM extended its ownership of Four Corners Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, and signed a guaranteed contract to buy coal, whether they use it or not.

Chuck Noble is the attorney for the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, which intervened in the rate case to ask that PNM not be allowed to charge customers for some equipment the company installed at the San Juan Generating Plant, another coal-fired facility. Noble said he's glad the commission forced PNM rather than customers to shoulder those costs.

"PNM claimed to have put that in for environmental purposes, and we believe that the environmental benefits were questionable, and the costs were extremely high, about $52 million," he said.

The average customer's monthly bill right now is about $70. Noble said the higher rates go into effect sometime next week, once the commission staff gives final approval.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NM