- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s largest electric provider has reached a settlement with regulators, the state attorney general and others over a rate increase scheduled to take effect next year.

The parties said the proposed settlement was filed Friday with the state Public Regulation Commission, which has the final say.

The agreement calls for a two-step increase in rates over the next two years for Public Service Co. of New Mexico customers. The utility estimates the average monthly residential customer bill would increase by less than $6 in 2018 and by less than $5 in 2019.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office was among those to approve on the agreement.

“The parties were able to get PNM to concede on several aspects of its case resulting in a significantly lower rate increase to its customers and a firm movement away from its dependence on coal,” said James Hallinan, a spokesman with the attorney general’s office.

The rate increase under the settlement represents a nearly 50 percent reduction from what was originally proposed, he said. The utility also promised not to seek another increase in rates for two years.

The Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, the Sierra Club, the Renewable Energy Industries Association, Western Resource Advocates and some large businesses are supporting the settlement.

The affordable energy group said it still plans to pursue energy efficiency programs and more renewable energy resources in future rates cases.

While the utility has proposed eliminating coal from its portfolio by 2031, the environmental group New Energy Economy took issue with the settlement. The group said Friday it objects to the utility being able to recover the costs of capital expenditures and pollution-control equipment installed at the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant in northwest New Mexico.

Mariel Nanasi, the group’s executive director, described the recovery of $150 million a “heavy and unjustified burden on New Mexico families.”

She also criticized spending on the utility’s San Juan Generating Station, another coal-fired power plant at which two units are scheduled to shut down by the end of the year as part of an agreement to curb haze-causing pollution in the region.

The utility has argued that its goal has been to provide affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible power. President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn reiterated that Friday, saying the settlement has broad support.

The utility also is planning a series of meetings around the state over the next month so residents can weigh in on its draft plan for power generation resources in the future.

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