We hoped that with elections over for the Gov, she might turn her back on her corporate donors and appoint a slate of PRC commissioners who might hold utilities in check. Her choices have been announced, and our review can be captured in one word: Nope.
Time to Huddle Up!
Before we get started on PRC nominees, a brief reminder that on Weds, Jan 4 from 6-7pm, we will resume our weekly Huddles focused on the looming legislative session. Join us for conversation about bills we could support and strategies for passing them. In the process, learn how the legislature operates and how you can better have an impact.
Last week, , I was told by Sen. Stefanics that the session would not include Zoom public comment, that all public comment would be in person, only to read in the New Mexican the same day a quote from Speaker-elect, Rep. Javier Martinez indicating the opposite..
“In addition, remote public testimony during legislative committee hearings will still be allowed during the upcoming session, said Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, who was nominated by his caucus last month as the next House speaker.”
In seeking confirmation from Sen. Stefanics Monday morning, she noted that the decision would be made at the next Legislative Council meeting on Jan.16. In the meantime, it would be good idea to reach out to your legislator to encourage public comment by Zoom for all committee hearings. Until a formal, final announcement is made, we will need to be prepared for either format, so please join our huddle Weds to get ready.
Jan. 4 Huddle: Click here to register. You must register to participate/attend.
Jan. 11 Huddle: Click here to register.
The Gov. Makes One Good, One Uninspiring & One Horrid PRC Appointment.
The first clue this would not end well, was that far and away, the best candidate, Carolyn Glick, was not appointed. With sixteen years experience as a PRC hearing examiner, she was known for her no-nonsense reports that almost always held our Investor Owned Utilities accountable. She knew the players and their posturing. But apparently this was not a desired quality, so Glick was not appointed. Here is who was appointed with discussion of the pros and cons..
The Nominees Are
Gabriel Aguilera has worked for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission since 2007, most recently serving as Senior Policy Advisor for the Commission’s Office of Energy Market Regulation western region. So, he clearly has regulatory experience. He was born and raised in NM, is a graduate of New Mexico State University and holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland. A review of his responses to questions in the candidate questionnaire, reveals a clear understanding of the regulatory process, the PRC’s role and also his priorities in weighing regulatory decisions. His questionnaire responses were thoughtful, lengthy and detailed. While ranking cost and reliability very highly, his responses also demonstrated the need to balance those priorities with stewardship of the environment and social justice concerns. His term of appointment is 4 years. A solidly defensible pick, but after this it gets very dicey, with one horrible pick and one entirely uninspiring.
First the Horrible Pick
Patrick O’Connell, a Dem from BernCo, is a professional engineer with more than 28 years of experience in New Mexico utilities, unfortunately much too much of that experience was working for the utilities he will be charged to regulate. He is currently the Clean Energy Program Interim Director at Western Resource Advocates. He previously worked for 12 years at Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), and another eight years at New Mexico Gas Company, with several years at the Sangre de Cristo Water Company. He holds a civil engineering degree from the University of New Mexico.
What’s more, of all the questionnaire responses I reviewed, his responses were the most detailed and thoughtful, reflecting a clear understanding of the energy challenges faced by NM and the central role renewables must play in meeting those challenges But there is a problem, folks..
While clearly having the content-related experience, the first criteria for being an eligible candidate is:
“Candidates must be independent of the industries regulated by the Commission.”
This could not be much clearer. So despite 12 years as a PNM exec and another 8 at NM Gas Co– both entities regulated by the PRC– it is hard to see how O’Connell meets this first criteria. With clear ties to PNM and to the natural gas industry the Governor,, nonetheless, appointed O’Connell to the longest of terms possible, six years.
One could argue that O’Connell hasn’t worked for PNM since 2019, so how close are the ties? Well, he testified in support of the Avangrid merger at the PRC and in a New Mexican article, he indicated he was unsure if he would recuse himself on a new hearing on the proposed merger. This is a problem and a clear conflict. Plus with eight years as an exec in charge of natural gas pipeline development at NM Gas Co. and with natural gas central to MLG’s hydrogen development plans, we see why he won favor with MLG. What’s more, his term of appointment is 6 years. So, if the Senate approves this appointment, PNM could have one solid vote secured through 2028. Could it be any more obvious what experience, MLG valued in making this selection?
The two choices above were both Dems, so the Governor could not select another Dem. So the selection of Moore, would help meet that criteria. However, selecting a DTS would have also addressed that criteria.. And there was one very compelling DTS option, but first let’s look at MLG’s selection, Brian Moore.
Brian Moore, GOP from Curry County, is a former state legislator representing eastern New Mexico counties. He is the President and CEO of Ranch Market supermarket in Clayton, N.M. Moore previously served as the legislative team leader for the New Mexico Association of Counties, as well as on the state’s Renewable Energy Transmission Authority Board and Gov. Lujan Grisham’s Economic Recovery Council. He attended the University of Denver. He was also the chief of staff for Governor Susana Martinez, ugh. His term of appointment is 2 years.
It is hard to see the value added in appointing a grocery chain operator with extremely limited experience in energy and utility industries or their regulation. Admittedly, he has lots of political experience as a legislator and as a governor’s chief of staff, but one of the primary stated objectives for switching to an appointed PRC was to depoliticize that body and its work, so this kind of legislative and political experience should not be viewed as a positive, especially given his role as Chief of Staff for a truly horrid Governor.
What’s more, a review of Moore’s responses to the questionnaire completed by all finalists, reveals little evidence of grasp of regulatory process. His responses were generally one sentence and where he had opportunities to expand on his experience as a RETA board member, he never did, not even noting his length of service or any specific, relevant issues upon which he deliberated. In one response, he noted that he hadn’t really studied how other state Commissions function, noting in passing that Texas seems to have problems, but Colorado seems to regulate ‘without much drama.” The absence of drama is hardly an indicator of an effective regulatory process. Moreover, one would think if someone were serious about serving on the PRC, they’d have done at least a little digging into how they function and perhaps done a quick search on most effective utility regulators, especially after seeing the question asked in the questionnaire. In short, a paper thin, uninspiring selection, especially when you consider the alternatives available..
Who Should Have Been Appointed
The Governor made one good selection, Gabriel Arguilera, But she could also have selected:
Carolyn Glick., DTS from Santa Fe County, so no conflict about more than one candidate from one county and as a DTS, no conflict with the other two Dems appointed. With 16 years direct PRC experience, it is hard to imagine how she could have not risen to the top of any review seeking the most qualified candidate and the one most ready to hit the ground running.
In short, one decent pick, one uninspiring one and one that peeled away any veneer covering the true motivation in the Governor’s selections. We will have our work cut out for us with this PRC. But it is good to recall, we had years with Sandy Jones and Patrick Lyons who were rock solid with the utilities and foiled every meaningful attempt at accountability, The appointments need to be confirmed in the Senate and there re good arguments to be made for rejecting both Moore and O’Connell.. We want to confer with allies about our strategy, but I suspect that work will begin in the Senate.
It is worth noting that the Senate is in a real bind, as should they reject one or more nominees, we will not have a functional quorum and the PRC has several critical cases looming. So, stay tuned and happy new years.
In solidarity & hope,
Paul & Roxanne