FARMINGTON — The San Juan County land owners who at the end of the summer will lose natural gas from distribution lines they've had access to for decades say there was an easy solution that the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission denied.

The solution, said Kim Alsup, an affected property owner, was an additional 3-cent monthly rate increase to all New Mexico Gas Company customers.

"You could find that in your couch," she said.

But Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, PRC chairwoman and District 4 commissioner, which includes the affected area, said the commission never voted on nor discussed that rate increase.

Now, 63 New Mexico Gas Company customers in the county will lose natural gas. One of those customers is the Hammond Conservancy District, which uses the gas to pump water to almost 1,000 customers in the county.

The problem began in 1995, Alsup said, when the PRC, then the Public Utilities Commission, allowed PNM to sell the lines to Williams Four Corners LLC. Enterprise Products later bought its own gas assets in those lines.

But in 2009, those companies told the New Mexico Gas Company they will stop providing gas to 474 county customers hooked into the lines because, Alsup said, they are not utility providers. Historically, the New Mexico Gas Company bought the gas in the lines and sold it to metered customers.


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Becenti-Aguilar said the New Mexico Gas Company will increase its customers' monthly rates by about 4 cents for 30 years. She said that will cover the company's cost of laying new lines from its main system to all but the 63 customers affected.

The proposition to raise rates by 3 cents would have been in addition to the 4-cent rise in rates, raising monthly bills by 7 cents.

Linda Lovejoy, who won the District 4 PRC seat earlier this month and faces no opposition in the November general election, called the current solution "very problematic."

"I don't know who negotiated that," she said. "It just doesn't sound like a very good deal to me."

If she were a PRC commissioner when the deal was being negotiated, she said, she would have found a solution that kept all customers connected to natural gas.

Alsup said Williams and Enterprise are not utility providers, and the PRC should never have allowed the sale. Lovejoy told The Daily Times earlier this month, "It sounds like somebody dropped the ball."

Alsup said she wants to know, "Why did the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission allow this sale?"

PRC Spokesman Arthur Bishop said no staff were available on Friday to answer that question.

Tom Domme, New Mexico Gas Company regulatory affairs vice president, said the PRC had to fix a difficult problem — how to maintain the gas company's customer connections in a cost-effective manner.

In July 2012, the New Mexico Gas Company, PRC utility staff and the New Mexico Attorney General's Office submitted the first of several stipulations to the PRC proposing the gas company extend lines from its main system to 446 of the 474 county customers, leaving only 28 customers disconnected, Domme said.

"And that's going to cost more money, obviously," he said. "You're extending your lines further."

Instead, the PRC approved an amended stipulation stating the New Mexico Gas Company would extend lines to 411 county customers — leaving the 63 customers without natural gas — because the gas company's rate increase would be less, he said.

"The PRC has to draw a balance between the cost to extend and who to extend to," he said, adding that everyone has tried to settle on a "fair and reasonable solution to what is a very difficult problem."

Alsup said she knows the New Mexico Gas Company is trying to resolve the problem, but she doesn't understand why the gas company can't extend its lines to her home and other homes along County Road 4990. She said other communities further than hers from the gas company's main system have extensions, such as the community near Navajo Dam.

"That's a very expensive proposition," Domme said.

The Navajo Dam community is pulling natural gas from distribution lines — lines that pump the gas from wells to processing plants — and the New Mexico Gas Company can't connect to those lines, he said. New Mexico Gas Company must lay lines from its main system to customers. It cannot connect them from distribution lines.

Domme said the gas company would have to lay new lines from their main system to connect customers on County Road 4990.

"All of this was explained to the commission," he said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @DTDSchwartz on Twitter.