HB199/SB210: “Consumer Protection Bill” endorsed by PNM is having a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee Room 309, TODAY at 1:30pm. This is one I encourage folks to attend. Here is why.
Hello Fellow Wanderers in Murky Times,
First a bit of background. HB199/SB210 are companion bills entitled “Distributed Energy Consumer Protection.” Consumer protection sounds like a good idea, but when I saw that the bill was being pushed heavily by PNM and opposed by Earth Care and New Energy Economy, I pondered. Looking more deeply, the bill asks consumers to contact their utility company i.e. PNM to get advice before taking the risky plunge of installing solar. The bill would also foist more paper work and more regulations on solar installers. Despite digging very deeply, I have found no evidence of anything like a serious need for consumer protection, but have a call in to the State Attorney General’s Consumer Protection division to see if I can get hard data. But there is a hearing this morning and I wanted to get something out to you today. So I continued investigating and found some puzzling aspects to this bill and its supporters. Very often these issues are more black and white. But HB199/SB210 is more murky–at least at first:
- Conservation Voters of NM is not opposing this bill;
- Brian Egolf is apparently supporting this bill and it has passed through a House Business and Industry Committee on an 8-0 vote;
- An unknown number of solar installers support this bill; and
- At least three people I respect — smart, progressive people, all of whom have studied the bill– don’t see the problem and wonder why we would put effort into opposing it.
On the other hand:
- New Energy Economy and Earth Care strongly oppose this bill, as written;
- PNM strongly endorses this bill. I am sorry, but Consumer Protection and PNM do not belong in the same sentence, and at some point you have to question their intentions;
- We Stand for Energy supports this bill, and while this organization has a soothing website that at first blush appears to be a progressive supporter of renewable energy, once you look under the covers you see their endorsement of “balanced energy sources” including what they call the “clean” fossil fuel industry. Digging a bit deeper you see that they are sponsored by Edison Electric Institute (EEI) click here, who recently posted on its website a congratulations to Scott Pruitt for being approved as Director of the EPA click here.
For more on the EEI and its direct connection with PNM, David Pomerantz, Executive Director of the Energy and Policy Institute wrote in his New Mexican My View on Monday:
- “Edison Electric Institute funded — and was caught manipulating the contents of — a report called “Solar Power for Your Home: A Consumer’s Guide,” some of which seemed designed to dissuade consumers from going solar;” and
- “Edison Electric Institute is a paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the corporate bill mill that allows fossil fuel companies and utilities to ghostwrite bills for state legislators. ALEC offered a presentation in 2015 called “Consumer Protection Concerns Surround Rooftop Solar Model Policy.” Edison Electric Institute has admitted to ghostwriting other ALEC attacks on solar energy in the past.” and
- “As a current vice chairman of Edison Electric Institute, Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM Resources’ chief executive officer, knows this playbook intimately, and she is deploying it in New Mexico.”
At some point you have to ask yourself: Why is PNM sponsoring this bill? Are they really looking out for consumer interests? Or perhaps is this more about their desire to deter solar installations? Is PNM really interested in protecting consumers? NEE and Earth Care are opposing this bill. Are they trying to protect nefarious solar installers? For that matter is the solar industry replete with nefarious solar installers? Is most of the solar installation business really driven by greed, looking to make an easy buck? The answer to all of these questions is “no.”
I recall sitting in the NM Supreme Court and hearing PNM brazenly use cooked numbers to try to convince the court that coal and gas were cheaper than solar. They were caught red-handed when NEE lawyers presented actual, current numbers clearly based on data from surrounding states that proved that PNM had used inflated numbers (numbers they couldn’t even justify or explain where they came from). These are the people we ask consumers to turn to for advice on whether they should install solar? That is what is in the bill.
And then there is this from NEE:
If PNM cared about customers they wouldn’t:
- Have disconnected 17,082 people in 2012; as reported by PNM to the PRC last year (a more tangible way to protect consumers would have been to have kept their energy on);
- Have produced 60,000 air quality violations from NM Environment Department from 2005-2008;
- Spew pollution that causes more than $50M of externalized health care costs per year! Externalized means PNM makes profits and we pay for the heart disease, lung disease, asthma, hospital room visits, and missed days of work as reported by Dr. George Thurston, NYU School of Medicine, who has been a leader in advancing the intersection of science and public policy decision-making.
- Lock consumers into 80% coal and nuclear dependence with ever rising rates! Since 2008 residential rates have risen 65%, while at the same time PNM earnings have also risen by 460%, and real NM median income has decreased by 6%! (Unchallenged testimony, PNM rate case, 15-00261-UT)
- Have proposed a $100M gas pipeline and gas plant even though their own numbers showed it was unnecessary. Only after New Energy Economy challenged it did PNM withdraw its case.
Finally there is this: If our Roundhouse is so concerned about consumer protection, why can’t it even get a predatory lending bill out of committee and onto the floor? If ever there were an industry that needed regulation, it is this one. Instead of voting to protect consumers who really need it, they are instead, behind closed doors, negotiating a ‘compromise’ that would set a lending cap at 175%. That is a compromise? That is consumer protection? But while there is abundant evidence of the need to protect consumers from pay day lenders, no protections are developed. And with absolutely zero evidence presented of any kind of serious consumer ripoffs by the solar industry, the Roundhouse suddenly has found the courage to stand up for consumers?
Maybe not so murky after all. I plan to attend today’s hearing and I plan to try to touch base with Brian Egolf and ask him directly why he is supporting this bill. I plan to also ask Matthew McQueen his stance. This is what Democracy is about: holding our elected officials accountable. Right now I am not feeling all that great that we worked so hard this past summer and fall to Retake The Roundhouse, only to find it aligned with PNM and against consumers who PNM is purporting to protect. But then, maybe attending today’s hearings will provide answers that I just don’t see right now to this question: Why would anyone believe PNM wants to protect consumers? And why would anyone question why New Energy Economy and Earth Care would oppose this bill?
Hope to see you this afternoon at the Roundhouse and find out more about what our Roundhouse Reps think consumer protection is really about. Then let’s meet up at 5pm at City Hall when our City Council votes on expanding our Sanctuary policies. This expansion of our protection of our immigrant neighbors will likely pass unanimously. Maybe our Roundhouse representatives should look to our Santa Fe City Councilors to see what protection really means.