Friday, February 23, 2007

PNM Rate Shocker: The Politics Of Your Electric Bill, Plus: Those Zany Characters At ABQ City Hall 

The state's big electric company--PNM--delivered a shock this week. It is asking the elected members of the Public Regulation Commission to approve a double digit rate increase to take effect around the first of the year. Rates have been stable in recent years because of excess capacity and other factors. It has given the PRC a breather from the politics of higher energy costs, but now their back.

Without passing judgment on the merit of the proposal, it appears one aspect of the PNM plan will grab voters' attention even in the non-election year of 2007---forcing them to pay more for electricity when they need it most, in June, July and August. The government-sanctioned monopoly utility explains it this way: "Higher summer rates will encourage efficiency and increased conservation by customers, thereby lowering demand. Ultimately, that helps save customers money."

But who says customers are being inefficient? It's not as if current rates are cause for consumers to throw power parties and burn their lights around the clock or run their air conditioners full-blast. For the many low income New Mexicans and those on fixed incomes among PNM's 460,000 state customers, conservation is already a way of life. Many of them dread even turning on their air coolers even as temperatures become oppressive.

In PNM's opinion, many New Mexicans are apparently being profligate with their energy usage, but the demands of the computer age combined with a traditionally hot desert climate, larger living quarters and, thankfully, a growing economy, naturally increases demand. It can be argued that this isn't waste; it is improving the quality of life. The PNM summer rate increase proposal places the burden of "efficiency" on the consumer, but the elected members of the PRC are mandated to look at the efficiency of PNM in delivering the electricity, not how consumers put it to use.

Chairman Lujan
PNM is a solid corporate citizen with a history of excellent service, but when the company says: "We should be in the business of helping people save energy," it is reciting a laudable goal, not the main purpose of the company which is to provide reasonably priced and reliably delivered electricity. Now is not the time for New Mexicans to buy into a culture of limitations. Our economy is only now awakening compared to our regional neighbors. Rationing electricity, which is in effect what PNM is proposing, is more fitting for a developing country, not an American state. PRC Chairman Ben Lujan, Jr. and his colleagues need to do all in their power to have PNM efficiently provide as much reasonably priced electricity as our small state needs. That way the next generation of New Mexicans has more options, not limitations.


Things are back to normal at ABQ City Hall. Half the council seems to be running for mayor, the current mayor's department directors walked out of a council meeting, protesting the badgering they were receiving by one councilor and one of the councilors who charged the mayor with having a conflict of interest with a big developer has received campaign money from the very same developer. It all sounds like one great skit for the NM broadcasters annual Gridiron Show.

Much of this is a case of "second termitis." The ability of Mayor Chavez to herd the cats diminishes with each turn of the monthly calendar. The jockeying to be his successor in '09 is underway, with Councilors Sanchez and Cadigan likely candidates and Councilor Mayer even thinking of a run. The October council elections in which four seats are up for election is also raising the temperature. Under such circumstances, civility is often the first casualty. But if they fight among themselves instead of trying to raise your taxes to build a street car or a giant sports arena, then maybe we should encourage the circus-like antics.

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