New Mexico PRC seeks permanent solution but gap in rules may allow utility disconnections
AZTEC — Some residential utility customers could face disconnects in late September and early October amid a gap in rules prohibiting disconnection for nonpayment.
While the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission expressed concerns about this gap, the PRC general counsel Judith Amer said there was nothing they could do to prevent it. Emergency rules prohibiting the disconnection of residential customers are set to expire and a new rule could not become effective until mid-October.
Amer expressed hope that the utilities will voluntarily choose not to disconnect residential customers during that gap, and she said the commission can urge the utilities to continue following the emergency rule.
Unlike the current emergency rule, this potential new rule will not have a set date for expiration. Instead, it will be effective as long as the governor’s public health orders are in play to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency and issued orders prohibiting non-essential business in early March, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission followed suit by prohibiting the disconnection of residential utility customers.
This emergency rule by the PRC was approved on March 18 and impacts only the utilities regulated by the commission.
Utilities that fall under PRC jurisdiction include privately-owned water utilities, gas utilities and investor-owned and cooperative electric utilities. These utilities include AV Water Co. and New Mexico Gas Company.
The largest electric utility in the state, Public Service Company of New Mexico, also falls under PRC jurisdiction.
Municipal utilities like Farmington Electric Utility System and Aztec Utility Services do not fall under PRC jurisdiction. However, Farmington and Aztec have chosen to forego disconnections for non-payment during the pandemic.
But the emergency rule is set to expire in mid-September and Amer told the commissioners that it cannot be extended.
Instead, the PRC will begin a process to implement a rule permanently barring residential utility disconnections due to nonpayment during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The PRC commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with the rulemaking process when they met on Aug. 5 via Zoom.
The PRC will have a hearing on Sept. 25. The earliest a new rule could become effective is October.
Amer said that means there will be a gap. During that gap, the utilities will no longer be prohibited from disconnecting residential customers who are unable to pay their bills.
The earliest the hearing could be scheduled under noticing requirements was Sept. 25.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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