Guest Column: How many more PNM shenanigans can we take?
By Lyla June Johnston
Let me get this straight … in the pending rate hike request Public Service Company of New Mexico wants to spend $280 million more on coal and nuclear energy sources? Every penny of which and more I will pay back to PNM through my electric bill?
Just after PNM asked the Public Regulation Commission to approve another $580 million coal contract, earlier this year?
Aren’t we hearing the cries of the earth as she wails in hurricanes, weeps in melting ice shelves, drowns in floods and smolders in the wake of forest fires?
How much longer can we pretend that climate disruption is not a result of our policies, energy sources and way of life? And most of all, why is PNM investing in more coal when solar and wind energy are now half the price?
How could the PRC lock ratepayers like me, hard-working New Mexicans, into three decades of payment increases? When I open the mail box and find a PNM bill waiting there, these questions are all I can think of — Why, why, why?
So I did a little research … I found that PNM actually gets an extra 9.575 percent return on every dollar it invests in coal and nuclear assets. Yes, you heard it, the more expensive energy sources PNM chooses, the more it earns back on top. This extra income is something called “return on equity” and gives PNM an incentive to invest in the most expensive, obsolete energy options there are.
Thus, we are paying way too much for energy and on top of that we are subsidizing their nearly 10 percent return on assets because the more PNM spends the more we pay and export to Wall Street shareholders.
There are certain laws and regulations that are in place to protect ratepayers from these kinds of shenanigans, right? A lot of people think PNM is a public service corporation (I did for a long time), but it is not. It is a privately held company with shares bought and sold in the stock exchange, just like Coca Cola or Exxon or any other corporation.
But unlike other corporations, PNM has a monopoly on New Mexico’s energy market. Monopolies are generally illegal because they hold the public at ransom for any price since they are the sole provider of a product, but PNM’s monopoly is legally “justified” because it is supposedly regulated by the Public Regulation Commission.
PNM must prove that its decisions are “prudent.” Court decisions define it this way: “Prudence is that standard of care which a reasonable person would be expected to exercise.”
How can PNM’s coal and nuclear choices, which cost twice as much as solar and wind alternatives, not to mention are leading contributors to climate change and nuclear waste, be prudent by any stretch of the imagination?
PNM continues to roll rate case after rate case onto the public: hundreds of millions to pay for coal and nuclear power — burdening our people with mining and legacy waste issues — that we as rate payers will reimburse PNM for at least the next 30 years. What’s worse is that PNM failed to do any form of timely financial analysis or comparative shopping in this purchase. This doesn’t meet the definition of just or fair or reasonable or “prudent” to me.
For this reason, I will attend the rate case appeal at the New Mexico Supreme Court on the corner of Alameda and Don Diego streets, on Oct. 30 at 9 a.m. Will you join me?
I will be there to hold the PRC accountable for deciding my financial future. It is their duty (and the attorney general and the city of Albuquerque too) by institutional definition, to identify these abuses and name PNM proposals for what they are — imprudent, irresponsible, unjust, greedy and, by our own state law, illegal.
Lyla June Johnston is Naaneesht’ezhi Taach’iinii from her mother, whose family is from Church Rock, N.M. She is a resident of Albuquerque and was raised in Taos, New Mexico. She is a graduate of Stanford University with honors with a degree in environmental anthropology. She is currently pursuing graduate studies at UNM in American Indian education.