PRC Nominees: One withdraws, Guv Appoints A Hydrogen Devotee. Our Work is to Talk with Our Senators

This is important: the new candidate needs to be researched and vetted thoroughly and quickly to explore his role in researching hydrogen hubs at Sandia. Another candidate needs to be supported, but Patrick O’Connell must be vigorously opposed as his allegiance to PNM and Avangrid is transparent. Read on, then act.

This blog was done yesterday afternoon. I’d done a thorough job of dismantling Brian Moore as a candidate and set out a plan to oppose two of the three nominees. Time to publish. Then the news hit: Moore had withdrawn and MLG had replaced him with a Sandia scientist who is way qualified, but who is currently working on hydrogen hub research. Never a dull moment. Back to the drawing board this morning. So now here is the latest. At the bottom of the post is updated info on our Huddle tonight and a Water Advocacy zoom as well.

PRC Commission Nominating Process Chaos

With Moore withdrawn, one of the terrible nominees has been eliminated, but there is more to be done, as O’Connell is perhaps the worst candidate possible.

Patrick O’Connell, a Dem from Bernalillo County, 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. When at PNM he clearly was a dutiful adherent to the party line. Here is a perfect example in O’Connell’s Rebuttal Testimony July 2017 regarding Four Corners, from the very first page: 

“I conclude that PNM conducted a reasonable economic analysis of the cost-justification of operating Four Comers that considered projected costs of emissions controls and other environmental regulation, as well as the projected pricing sensitivities under the coal supply agreement.”

Recall that the entire case was about how PNM did absolutely no contemporaneous analysis and had failed to update years-old data as that was the only data that would show maintaining Four Corners made economic sense. That didn’t stop McConnell from speaking the party line, especially given that the sustained use of fossil fuels called for in PNM’s analysis would generate far more profit for PNM, at the expense of ratepayers and the planet. But there is more; O’Connell should be ineligible to even be considered. The first criteria for candidates 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 his 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 and the citation above was from five years ago. So how close are the ties? Well, he testified last year 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? We need to oppose this nominee strongly in the Senate and it is not too soon to start a conversation with your Senator. Emphasize that:

  • “Candidates must be independent of the industries regulated by the Commission
    • O’Connell was an exec at PNM for 12 years and with NM Gas Co for 8 more years, both PRC-regulated entities;
    • He testified in favor of the Avangrid merger before the PRC (see below for more on the merger that refuses to die);
    • He testified often at the PRC in support of PNM’s commitment to sustained use of fossil fuel-based energy, despite the economics clearly favoring a switch to less costly but also less profitable renewables.
    • His appointment is for six years, the longest possible term. We deserve a Commissioner whose allegiance is to the people, not to PNM profit.
    • Carolyn Glick should have been selected as she has 15 years of direct regulation experience, she knows the rules, the process, the issues, and the players. She should have been the top pick.

How Did Moore Even Get to the Guv’s Desk?

Brian Moore’s answers to questionnaire are sparse and wanting in detail or any understanding of the energy industry or the regulatory process. With high school being his furthest educational achievement, he is simply not a very complex thinker, something he appears to realize as in his interview he stated that “I may be the most unqualified candidate you interview in this process. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an engineer. I’ve never worked for a regulated industry. I don’t know a whole lot about how the agency works on a regular basis.” So why on earth would the committee forward his candidacy to the governor, when he clearly did not meet the minimum educational requirements? And how does the Governor appoint someone with absolutely no qualifications, when there were other candidates available with far greater qualifications?

Well at least Moore had the self-respect to say to himself, “Self, you’ve got this grocery store gig nailed, why go be the village idiot trying to tackle a job well beyond your ken?” And so, a press release Tuesday from the Governor states:

Brian K. Moore, who was previously appointed to the commission, submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Lujan Grisham stating that he did not meet the statutory educational qualifications for the appointment. Individuals submitted to the governor for appointment consideration applied through and were vetted by the PRC Nominating Committee, a process independent of the governor’s office and established by the 2022 constitutional amendment reforming the commission.

Even though Brian Moore has withdrawn, I retained here much of my analysis of his candidacy because it illustrates the inadequate job done by former Speaker Egolf’s legislative committee charged with vetting candidates, and it reveals how the Governor is not even trying to identify and select the most qualified candidates.

How could the governor decide not to pick the candidate most qualified, and a woman, Carolyn Glick, who has 15 years direct experience as a PRC hearing examiner, in favor of a candidate who described himself as the least qualified candidate. What’s more, how did the committee, in considering O’Connell, overlook his clear bias toward PNM, fossil fuels, and Avangrid, especially when two tremendous candidates could fill the requirement for a non-Democrat who are much more capable and qualified than Moore or O’Connell:

  • Carolyn Glick – 15 years of regulation with the Commission – the most experienced person and a woman. Hands down. She knows the rules, the process, the issues and the players and should have been the first pick made.
  • Arthur O’Donnell – 7-9 years on California’s regulatory commission – implemented community solar rulemaking at the PRC with the explicit support and approval of the Legislature.

The New Selection

MLG didn’t waste any time in instantly selecting someone to replace Moore, selecting James Ellison, who clearly meets the educational requirement with BA degrees from Clemson in Political Science and Physics, graduate degrees in electrical engineering and theory from MIT, and a Master’s degree from Stanford in business. Plus, he has worked for eight years at a power company with no operations in NM (hence not regulated by the PRC), and has spent over ten years at Sandia where he researched power systems, grids, planning models, and storage. All this constitutes a solid base of experience, a massive improvement over Moore, but unfortunately, he is currently studying hydrogen hubs at Sandia, something we need to explore further. There are scientists studying the viability of green hydrogen, which is the only economically and environmentally responsible hydrogen color. A deep understanding of the limitations and potential of hydrogen as an energy source is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it could be invaluable. So we withhold judgement on this nominee for now.

Why is this so important?

We can’t forecast all that will be on the PRC’s table over the next six years, but we know what is coming soon: a huge PNM rate setting case to be heard in early 2023, and a likely redux of the PNM Avangrid merger. Recall that the prior PRC unanimously denied Connecticut-based Avangrid’s proposed $8 billion acquisition of PNM Resources, the state’s largest electricity provider. Grisham, however, supports the deal and observers expect it will be reconsidered by the new slate of regulators.

The Governor has clearly weighed in on the merger, stating that the merger would “provide additional relief for New Mexico ratepayers while continuing to transition to a clean energy future for all New Mexicans,” Grisham said in 2021.

Fortunately the PRC saw it differently, not just issuing an unequivocal and unanimous opinion denying the merger, but then issuing a 23-page report outlining in great detail how dangerous the merger would be and how on an economic basis alone it should be rejected. The report concludes:

“There is economic rationale for the denial of Avangrid & PNM merger. As clarified in the above analysis, this merger may create an absolute monopolistic market structure in New Mexico’s electricity market due to the current market shares of both Avangrid in renewable energy markets in the US and PNM in generation, transmission, and distribution segments in New Mexico. If the Commission approves this merger between Avangrid and PNM, Avangrid can completely dominate all the segments from generation to transmission, distribution, wholesale, and retail in New Mexico electricity market. If this happens, there will be welfare transfer from electricity users to the merging companies in addition to the inefficient use of resources based on deadweight loss due to the monopolistic market structure. Such a market structure refers to the maximization of private interests of the merging companies but not public interest.” Emphasis ours.

More evidence of Avangrid’s real priorities have recently emerged in a report published by Brown University. In the report, Avangrid has been named as the #1 blocker of climate legislation in Connecticut. According to an analysis from Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab, Avangrid opposed more climate legislation between 2013 and 2020 than any other group identified in the report;[1] this runs directly counter to their testimony at the PRC and to their espoused Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) principles. 

In short, Avangrid can’t be trusted to rule NM’s energy future and O’Connell can’t be trusted to protect us from Avangrid. It is time to take action. Please use the speaking points above and contact your Senator and ask him/her not just to vote “no” on O’Connell’s nomination but to ask the Governor to select Carolyn Glick or Arthur O’Donnell as a better selection.

Hydrogen Hub Meeting Today at the Roundhouse, Rm. 307, 2 p.m.

We’ve just learned that the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) will meet for a Hydrogen Hub Update today, Weds., Jan. 11, 2- 4 p.m., Room 307 at the Roundhouse. Mysteriously, the meeting was not posted on the website until Tuesday, so we were unable to secure info on how you can offer public comment. But if you email written info directly to committee members, they will receive it. We have a copy of the agenda, which you can access at this link.

We’ve attempted to get more information on the process. What we learned late yesterday is that the meeting will be accessible to view via webcast, but not via Zoom. So to make public comment you must attend the hearing in person, and since no public comment is on the agenda, it will be up to the discretion of the chair to allow comment and to cut it short if she (Rep. Patty Lundstrom) feels it has gone on too long.

In this context, perhaps a more effective use of your time would be to write to the members directly this morning (contact info provided below). To frame your comments, we suggest you read about why hydrogen production is bad for our state at this linkWe don’t know if a hydrogen hub bill will be introduced again this year, so you’ll be speaking generally against hydrogen production in New Mexico.

Please contact members of the LFC today (see list below) to express your opposition to hydrogen production. NOTE: LFC is an Interim committee, so it includes both House and Senate members:

Legislative Finance Committee

  • Rep. Patricia A. Lundstrom, Chair (D), 505-722-2980,
  • Sen. George K. Munoz, Vice Chair (D), 505-722-6570 or 505-722-0191,
  • Rep. Gail Armstrong (R), 505-269-2364,
  • Rep. Brian G. Baca (R), 505-565-0304,
  • Sen. Pete Campos (D), 505-425-0508,
  • Rep. Christine Chandler (D), 505-695-2646,
  • Rep. Jack Chatfield (R), 575-673-2320,
  • Rep. Harry Garcia (D), 505-290-7510,
  • Sen. Roberto “Bobby” J. Gonzales (D), 575-758-2674,
  • Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D), 5775-654-0683,
  • Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil (D), 505-948-2320,
  • Sen. Gay G. Kernan (R), 505-629-8081,
  • Sen. Steven P. Neville (R), 505-327-5460,
  • Sen. Nancy Rodriguez (D), 505-983-8913,
  • Rep. Nathan P. Small (D), 575-496-9540,
  • Sen. Pat Woods (R), 575-357-8594,

Huddle Up Tonight, 6-7 p.m.

We will debrief the LFC hearing, discuss PRC nominee strategy, and discuss new bills introduced this week, so join us.

Tonight, Jan. 11, 6-7 p.m.: Click here to register. NOTE: We’ll try to make this a short Huddle so we can all participate in the Water Advocates Zoom at 6:30 p.m. If you’re interested in that event, you can learn more at this link.

In solidarity & hope,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: energy, Uncategorized

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2 replies

  1. I’m happy with the new appointee

  2. Paul, last night’s Legislative Huddle was very informative- as always. We had to leave and go to our monthly GCDP meeting to listen to our Senator Siah on her bills. On Chevron’s MolyCorp Questa Mine waste water it belongs to that watershed. Mines are nothing more than a huge well, below groundwater levels usually. So by NMED Statues that water must stay where it came from. Otherwise mines, like Freeport here, will stop treating their water and turn a toxic mess into a new profit stream for oil and gas and their hydrogen dreams. Kinda’ like the aluminum industry making a profit off their toxic byproduct fluoride. Beats treating it says corporate America!

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