HB 206 to create further State Legislature’s micromanagement of utility prices to be heard Saturday afternoon

HB 206, known as the Utility Affordability and Relief Act, will be heard in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Saturday, February 13, starting at 1:30pm. Click here if you’d like to testify.

The bill is designed to address issues relating to COVID 19 with regard to utilities being disconnected thanks in part to COVID 19. There are other provisions in the bill including the authorization of utility rate preferences for low-income New Mexicans.

While well-intended, unfortunately, the legislation would have an overall negative impact on ALL New Mexicans.

  • The bill prohibits utility disconnects due to COVID 19 and creates a program for partial forgiveness of debts incurred during the Pandemic. Of course, that pandemic began 11 months ago, and this legislation would not take effect until the Pandemic has been going for a year or more.

In the meantime, the Public Regulation Commission has maintained a moratorium on utility disconnections for all ratepayers who fall into arrears while the governor’s emergency health orders remain in place. The PRC extended that order Feb. 3 for 100 days for public utilities like Public Service Co. of New Mexico, and 45 more days for smaller utilities and rural electric cooperatives.

Who knows what the future holds, but overall conditions relating to the Virus seem to be improving. It seems hard to understand why the Legislature would need to legislate on the issue at this late date.

  • This bill would also open utility prices to manipulation in the form of “preferred” rates for certain groups, particularly “low-income” ratepayers. While current programs exist to assist those of modest means with their utility bills, the fact is that this bill would encourage utilities to begin price discrimination based on income levels. It would be unwise to further duplicate efforts to assist low-income payers.

Of course, if the Legislature cared about increasing utility costs, especially for electricity, they should have capped rate increases when they had the opportunity to consider HB 176 this session. Of course, if the Legislature were serious about keeping electricity rates low it would also consider repeal of the Energy Transition Act AND Richardson-era “renewable” mandates and instead returning electricity markets to something more closely resembling market prices.