We’ve written about this several times now, but now you can find out the Maine experience with Avangrid straight from a seven-term state legislator and chair of the Committee on Energy & Utilities. We also offer links to a few of our recent posts.
What You May Have Missed
Before we get to our guest post from Maine House Rep. Seth Berry, we want to offer links to some important posts we’ve done that you may have missed.
- July 13. “Are There Limits to Criminal Justice Reform? Plus a Recording of the Public Power Webinar.” I inadvertently posted this late yesterday, something that always causes a much lower “open” rate. But the piece is worthy of your time, as it faces up to the challenge of implementing progressive principles in real world contexts and then examines what could happen if others apply those principles in contexts that you had not anticipated. Check it out.
- July 10, “Japan Wasn’t the Only Victim of the Atomic Bomb.” This is important because it outlines a horrific miscarriage of justice that continues here in Southern NM.
- July 8: “The Strange, Sad Death of America’s Political Imagination” one of the more important posts we’ve published in some time, as it focuses not on the influence of money and lobbyists in deterring transformative change, but rather on how failure of political imagination and courage keep us spinning our wheels.
- July 7, “Tired of Being 50th In All Good Things? We Don’t Have to Be” outlines how NM has the very tangible opportunity to generate and transmit enough solar and wind energy to balance our state economy, create jobs, and increase local municipal revenues. If you missed this and are tired of being 50th….check it out.
Seven-Term Maine Legislator Spills the Beans on Avangrid
By Maine House Rep. Seth Berry
(Published here with permission from the author, this op-ed was published July 10, 2021 in the Santa Fe New Mexican under the title “Learn from Maine and Avoid Avangrid Disaster.”)
I am a seven-term member of the Maine House of Representatives, and House chairman of our Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology. Based on my direct knowledge of Avangrid/Iberdrola, I do not believe the proposed PNM-Avangrid merger would benefit the people of New Mexico.
Avangrid/Iberdrola purchased our largest local utility, Central Maine Power, in 2008. Since then, transmission rates have tripled and overall residential rates in Maine are now the 10th highest in the nation. Recently, CMP announced another double-digit increase.
Since Avangrid/Iberdrola bought CMP, Maine has become No. 1 in outages, with the most frequent and second-longest outages in the country.
Mainers also faced significant hardship due to the company’s improper billing practices. Customers reported foregoing Christmas celebrations, missing mortgage payments and choosing between paying electricity bills or buying medicine and food.
CMP executives blamed customers for their inflated bills, took out ads and held news conferences to insist all was well, and the utility ultimately was fined $10 million for its disastrous rollout of a new billing system. Still, most customers were never compensated, a class-action lawsuit is pending, and many continue to take extreme measures to reduce inexplicably high bills in the depths of our Maine winters.
If utilities were not monopolies, CMP would have no customers and no revenue. In the most widely recognized national survey of utility business customer satisfaction, CMP ranked in last place in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
When Avangrid/Iberdrola/CMP wanted to import power from Canada through Maine to Massachusetts, they acted nefariously to stifle public discourse. Their political action committee spent thousands on private detectives to follow citizen petition gatherers, and thousands more on lobbying. Avangrid/Iberdrola/CMP also spent millions in advertising because the project is so unpopular. Rather than letting the project be evaluated on the merits, the company used extra-legal measures, lobbying and propaganda to try and force their way. In 2017, they lobbied profligately to defeat a bill that would have required an independent analysis of the project’s global climate emissions impact.
Avangrid/Iberdrola’s ownership structure is complex and has badly diminished local control and local priorities. All important decisions are made far away, in parts of the world with little concern for ours. Avangrid and Iberdrola have proved in Maine, and also in Connecticut and New York, that profit is their only principle. Maine’s experiences show the dangers of giving monopoly privileges to corporations like these.
As I write this, in fact, Maine is filing for a divorce. Both the Maine House and Senate recently passed a historic bipartisan bill to revoke Avangrid/Iberdrola’s monopoly privilege and replace CMP with a nonprofit, consumer-owned utility. The bill is supported by 75 percent of Mainers. If the bill becomes law, it will save ratepayers $9 billion over the first 30 years, accelerate our transition to renewable energy and secure our grid.
The stakes are high. Electrification is critical to addressing climate change, and our power grid is becoming more important every day. You would not let a regulated, for-profit monopoly own your schools, your roads or your fire departments. Why trust it with your power?
In Maine, the mismanagement and failures of Avangrid/Iberdrola have caused lasting and irreversible harm. In New Mexico, their impact on captive customers will doubtless be just as harmful. But this is not a shotgun wedding. New Mexico can still say no.
Seth Berry is state representative for Maine House District 55. He is serving his fourth term on the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, has chaired the committee for three terms, and has also served as House majority leader and as assistant majority leader.
A separate ABQ Journal piece outlined how, if the PRC approves the merger, Avangrid would acquire PNM Resources and its two utility subsidiaries – Public Service Co. of New Mexico and Texas-New Mexico Power – in an all-cash transaction valued at $4.3 billion. They cited Rep. Berry and his view of the merger and its potential for NM.
“Based on our experiences in Maine and my direct knowledge of Avangrid/Iberdrola I do not believe that the merger/acquisition would be beneficial to PNM ratepayers or New Mexicans,” Berry said. “… The commission should reject the proposed merger acquisition as inconsistent with the public interest.”ABQ Journal: “Maine legislator advises NM to reject merger“
Among Maine’s experience was a horrific Avangrid billing failure that began in late 2017, after the Avangrid began using a new billing platform called Smartcare. From the Journal:
Shortly afterward, 16% of the company’s 620,000-plus customers received bills at least 50% higher than the same billing period a year earlier. Others received no bills at all until after their eventual balance proved much higher than they could afford.”ABQ Journal: “Maine legislator advises NM to reject merger”
The Maine Public Utilities Commission found 59 different kinds of billing errors that impacted well over 100,000 customers. Berry told the Journal that customers struggled to get their issues addressed by the utility, eventually leading to a class-action lawsuit brought by about 600 ratepayers that continues today. Commission staff weighed in on the scope of this billing catastrophe.
“The commission has not in recent history – and probably never before – seen complaints against a utility reach the numbers they have here, nor seen the kind of public skepticism of customers’ utility bills that has been raised against CMP in the last two years,” commission staff said.”ABQ Journal: “Maine legislator advises NM to reject merger”
Avangrid/CMP sent disconnect notices to thousands of Maine residents during a frigid 2020-2021 winter while Maine was in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, despite state law that prohibits utilities from turning off residential customers’ power before April 15 without regulatory approval to do so. That resulted in a $500,000 penalty against Central Main Power – the maximum allowed under state law.
Not surprisingly, CMP has ranked last in the nation among all large and midsize electric utilities for customer satisfaction for the past three years in a row in surveys by JD Power and Associates.
“In 2013, prior to Avangrid’s acquisition of CMP, it was ranked among the highest in the nation,” Berry said.
NM is already last or next to last in damned near everything. With a chance to diversify our economy and finally be in a fiscal position to address the factors that have consigned NM to last place, we now have the opportunity to say no to a new utility provider who is also last in damn near everything. We should turn away from this proposed marriage and, when asked for public comment by the PRC on August 9, respond not with “I do”, but with “we won’t.”
Paul & Roxanne
Categories: Climate Justice