This November, with Constitutional Amendment Ballot Initiative #1, New Mexico voters will decide how we structure our state’s utility regulatory agency, called the Public Regulation Commission (PRC). The PRC regulates electric and gas utilities, among other industries. Most New Mexicans spend thousands of dollars every year heating, cooling and powering their homes and businesses. The PRC is charged with implementing state laws overseeing this critical industry, safeguarding against unfair consumer practices, regulating the rates that consumers pay, and ensuring a clean, reliable and affordable energy future for New Mexico.
In the 2019 legislative session, the New Mexico legislature passed a bipartisan bill – by a vote of 59-8 in the House and 36-5 in the Senate – that would amend the Constitution to convert the state’s PRC from an elected body of five commissioners to an appointed body of three commissioners. In New Mexico, bills passed that amend the state Constitution have to be voted on by the public through a ballot measure. The amendment on this year’s ballot woulddirect the legislature to create a bipartisan appointing panel that would submit a list of names of qualified potential commissioners to the Governor every two years. The Governor would select a commissioner from that list to serve a six-year term on the PRC.
This election cycle, CVNM is standing in support of this ballot measure. Around the country, the low price of renewable energy and battery storage is driving a new wave of renewable energy transition. However, to make this work, our state regulators must ensure that renewables are considered in utility portfolios, and guarantee that the market forces that are driving low renewable prices prevail.
The most important point to make is that until 1999, New Mexico’s PRC commissioners were appointed. Constitutional Amendment #1 (CA#1) would put an end to an experiment that didn’t work – electing PRC commissioners – and restore a process of appointed PRC commissioners that is followed by 39 other states, including our neighbors.
Recently, voters have received a deluge of misinformation from groups opposing CA#1. We encourage you to read more about the proposed ballot initiative when you vote in this election. You can help create a clearer and less partisan path for our renewable energy future. Following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about CA#1.
Q: Why move to an appointed board?
A: The PRC is responsible for collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues, as well as ruling on complex financial, technical and legal matters concerning a wide variety of businesses over multiple industries. The PRC needs qualified professionals – not politicians – with the expertise needed to make the best decisions for New Mexico’s energy consumers.
Q: Isn’t an elected commission more democratic?
A: The electoral process tends to attract career politicians without the technical, legal or financial background to regulate the highly specialized utility industry. This means that customers’ interests aren’t necessarily being well represented. This reform will ensure qualified, informed commissioners who can fully represent New Mexico’s consumers.
Q: How will an appointed commission benefit the average New Mexican more than an elected one?
A: An appointed Commission will have the education and experience needed to wade through highly complex technical and financial cases. Appointed commissioners will have a clear understanding of the role of the PRC as a quasi-judicial regulatory body created to implement the policies passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor. The current elected format has unfortunately resulted in partisan developments and decisions that have impeded the implementation of key functions of the Commission, including minimizing rate increases for low-income families, and ensuring utilities invest in cost-effective energy sources like renewables.
Q: How will an appointed commission better serve the unique needs of residents in rural and underserved New Mexico communities?
A: To ensure that the PRC represents the diverse needs of a geographically large state like New Mexico, and that there isn’t a concentration of power in specific areas of the state, the nominating commission is required to propose nomineesto the Governor who are from different regions. This nomination process is the most robust in the country and will ensure that diverse, regionally balanced and capable commissioners are put forward to the Governor, who must select from that list of qualified candidates. The Governor’s selection then must be approved by the NM Senate.
Having PRC commissioners who are on the Commission because of their experience, independence and expertise – rather than because they won an election – will benefit rural and under-resourced New Mexico communities because these Commissioners will make decisions based on what’s right for the state. Particular special interests or voting blocs are more likely to be advocating for more populous and well-connected regions of the state.
In utility regulation, ratepayers everywhere in New Mexico want the lowest cost and best quality utility service. The slower pace of delivery of services to rural areas is more dependent on commissioners’ competency and sense of duty than where they live. Because of the rigorous nominating commission process, New Mexico will get the best of both worlds: diverse geographical representation and Commissioners who are looking out for the interests of the state as a whole, including rural and under-resourced communities.
Q: What impact will this reform have on rates?
A: This reform won’t have any immediate effect on rates. However a more qualified commission means electric and gas utilities will be required to make smart investments in New Mexico, like renewable energy sources that are already more affordable than fossil fuel-based alternatives, and to avoid unfair profits at the expense of everyday New Mexicans.
Q: How will an appointed commission better prepare New Mexico to address climate change?
A: Commissioners who make decisions based on public input and expertise, independent analysis, and a close review of the facts will better prepare New Mexico to address climate change. An appointed PRC would likely result in a more friendly regulatory environment for renewable energy and make the Commission less politically volatile and partisan.For example, the state renewable energy standard – before the Energy Transition Act (ETA) of 2019 – was set at a goal of 20% by 2020, but was on track for just half of that because the PRC had prohibited utilities from procuring more renewable energy, even though it was cheaper than fossil fuel resources. Even this current commission, which is the best we’ve had in decades, adopted our best-in-the-nation renewable energy standards only after extensive litigation before the NM Supreme Court. We need expertise and professionalism, not political posturing.
Q: What happens when a new Governor is elected?
A: The structure proposed by the ballot initiative would allow for staggered appointments so that it is impossible for any Governor to immediately change the composition of the Commission. It would also ensure that the right candidates, who understand the highly technical jargon of utility regulation, are appointed to the role, making political partisanship less influential in nominating and approving commissioners.
Q: How does passing the PRC Reform C.A. affect the current commissioners?
A: Current commissioners will serve out their terms and be eligible for appointment under the new system. Commissioners elected in 2020 will serve a two-year term and be eligible to be nominated.
Q: Isn’t the ballot language misleading?
A: The law requires that the amendment appear on the ballot with the exact title of the legislation that passed in 2019. The language that now appears on the ballot is taken directly from the legislation that passed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote.
Q: Who is supporting this effort?
A: The effort to reform the PRC is supported by a broad array of community and renewable energy business leaders. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, along with bipartisan support in the NM House and Senate, has made this a toppriority. Here is a list of some groups and elected leaders that are supporting the reform:
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham
PRC Commissioner Cynthia Hall
Former PRC Commissioner Doug Howe
Former PRC Commissioner Jason Marks
Majority Leader Peter Wirth
Speaker of the House Brian Egolf
Native American Voter Alliance (NAVA) Educational Project
National Education Association – New Mexico
America Votes New Mexico
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
Natural Resources Defense Council
Rio Grande Chapter Sierra Club
Environmental Defense Action Fund
Center for Civic Policy
Empowerment Congress of Doña Ana County
Policy Solutions Institute
Interwest Energy Alliance
SouthWest Energy Efficiency Project
Western Clean Energy Campaign
350.org New Mexico
League of Conservation Voters
Western Environmental Law Center
New Mexico CAFé
Renewable Energy Industries Association of New Mexico
Santa Fe New Mexican
Santa Fe Reporter