New Mexico utility regulators at a Jan. 12 meeting considered a petition that asked them to launch a study that would evaluate shifting the state’s electric sector to public power.
At the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission (PRC), the commissioners heard from State Sen. Carrie Hamblen and Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of the New Mexico New Energy Economy, as part of their discussion about the petition, which was filed by a group of New Mexico lawmakers.
The lawmakers said in their petition that they “believe that it is probable that public ownership of the electrical utilities that serve New Mexico would benefit New Mexico’s ratepayers, New Mexico’s businesses, and New Mexico’s state, local and tribal governments.”
At the PRC meeting, Sen. Hamblen said that the value of the study would be to “determine the costs, benefits and pathways to public power and to evaluate whether implementation of public power will protect the public interest, reduce and stabilize electricity rates, create revenue generation for the state and result in the deployment of 100 percent renewables plus storage, as well as enhance local economic benefits.”
Hamblen said that “if we are to thoroughly understand the alternatives to the current structure of our energy systems and service providers, we need the advice of technical experts. We also need to feel comfortable in seeing what other options there are and, really, whether or not they’re good for our state.”
She noted that the American Public Power Association has determined that public power customers pay on average 11 percent less than investor-owned utility customers. Further, public power customers “receive more reliable service and are more likely to benefit from renewable power sources,” Hamblen went on to say.
“Most importantly for New Mexico, it also keeps our money in our communities,” she said. “Publicly owned utilities can reinvest profits from energy sales into local jobs, lower energy costs for low-income customers and invest in local community projects and causes.”
Hamblen noted that the petition “points to two possible models that can be studied – a state-owned and operated electric power authority with municipal and tribal local control over generation or a community choice system where investor-owned utilities maintain transmission and distribution, with the option for municipal and tribal control over the generation.”
Hamblen said that her colleagues in the New Mexico House and Senate “feel that the PRC is not only the appropriate agency to house the study, but also has the most expertise when it comes to providing data on our various utilities.” The PRC “would be the custodian of the study and we are not asking you to take a position on the study findings. You have the technical expertise and if there are questions to be asked, you can either provide the answers or get that information from the utilities,” she said.
“We know that you will not be implementing public power. We recognize that that is the purview of the legislature,” she said. “We recognize that there are many factors to be explored” including the impact on workers, the costs of a publicly owned utility, how municipalities and tribal entities will be affected “and much more and that’s why, as legislators, there’s already been exploration about who is going to do the study and who is going to pay for it. We don’t expect the PRC to pay for it.”
Hamblen said that “the joint petitioners and legislators will be seeking that private money to be housed at the Santa Fe Community Foundation.” Moreover, the PRC would not be responsible for determining the best consultants and agencies to perform the study.
Nanasi said that “we’re hoping that this study will be done” in 2022.
PRC Commissioner Stephen Fischmann said he thinks such a study is worth doing. He noted that a lot of public power utilities are “doing some of the most innovative work,” mentioning specifically the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and its work on hydrogen, Texas public power utility Austin Energy, which “embraced solar very early” and Texas public power utility CPS Energy.
And, within New Mexico, the community of Farmington “loves its municipal public electric utility. It has very low rates.”
The Commissioners ultimately decided not to take action on the petition at the meeting.