‘I have a bridge I’d like to sell you …’

October 8, 2018

Public Regulation Commission candidate Steve Fischmann’s op-ed (“Wise words to remember for the PRC,” My View, Sept. 23), hearkens far too close for comfort to the specious offer, “I have a bridge to sell you.” While we can and must build a bridge to a 21st-century New Mexico energy future, that means working with partners who come to the table bearing concrete ideas instead of clever slogans.

The building blocks for a true new energy economy must reflect the needs of all energy stakeholders. Experimenting with solutions, while ensuring consistently reliable renewable energy, means compensating shareholders for their risk — something the PRC has been unwilling to do and actually seems hell-bent on punishing them for.

Make no mistake; utility shareholders are not big-city fat cats. They are retirees living on pensions accumulated through years of hard work; parents building portfolios for their kids’ college costs. These folks want and deserve a better return on their hard-earned investments and won’t hesitate to look to other utilities in other states where regulators actually do their job of balancing the interest of customers and the interest of shareholders — who front the bill on infrastructure investments.

All New Mexicans deserve to share in the energy revolution that Fischmann predicts will come, a revolution for which he has offered no real path nor budget. Without incentivizing shareholders, New Mexico consumers will have to subsidize those less fortunate. Just because the sun and wind are free doesn’t mean that the software, wires, equipment and labor required to transmit renewable energy to our homes is free as well.

Costs for renewables may have fallen, but as for heading to the subbasement, this statement would be believable if it was accompanied by hard facts. Ask an energy expert, and you’ll discover that while storage capabilities are no longer in their infancy, they are still a long way from providing the rosy energy future prophesied by Fischmann. A battery in an electric car is hardly comparable to a storage system that will guarantee reliable energy for thousands of consumers who depend on flipping a switch and lighting up a child’s bedroom on a cloudy or windless day.

In a recent report, Moody’s cited the PRC’s erratic and unpredictable behavior as creating an unfavorable regulatory environment that once again handicaps New Mexico’s utilities and leaves us behind other states: “We view New Mexico’s regulatory framework as less predictable and transparent compared to those of other U.S. jurisdictions.” The PRC’s feigned attempts to act solely as a consumer protection bureau hurts all New Mexico consumers. Let the New Mexico attorney general protect consumers and let the PRC balance investment and innovation with customer needs to truly achieve the future Fischmann seeks.

Making the right decisions in a measured manner, rather than engaging in “fail fast” experiments, is a much better prescription for creating the jobs, and it starts with a responsible PRC. It’s too easy to ascribe to Fischmann’s notion that, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.” Imagination is not enough. It takes hard choices, conscientious decisions and diligent, thoughtful, balanced regulation to achieve the energy and economic future New Mexicans deserve.

Simon Brackley is president and chief executive officer of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.

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