New Mexicans v. Fossil Fuel Giants

Date: 19 Oct 2023 | posted in: Energy, How to Get Away With Merger | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In 2020, Avangrid, backed by its parent company, Iberdrola, filed their case to buy Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). Over the next three years, Mariel Nanasi of the New Energy Economy fought alongside allies to prevent the acquisition, showcasing the company’s appalling track record and arguing that the acquisition would increase rates, escalate dysfunctional customer service, and harm the environment. Just last month, the case made it to the New Mexico Supreme Court. Krystal Curley, the Executive Director at Indigenous Lifeways, shares with us her concerns about monopoly utility companies exacerbating environmental and social injustices, emphasizing the need to protect sacred sites and natural resources.

New Energy Economy

New Report from New Mexicans Against Avangrid Details Scathing New Information About the Company

New Energy Economy’s Answer Brief 

Brown University Report: Opposition to key climate legislation is concentrated in several sectors: Electric/Gas Utilities, Heating Oil and Alternative Fuels, Business Association or Economic Councils, the Auto industry, Fossil Fuels, and Real Estate. Of these, the utility, business association, and fossil fuel sectors had the most engaged individual organizations: AVANGRID/UIL Holdings, CT Business and Industry Association, CT Petroleum Council, and Eversource Energy submitted more than 10 positions each in opposition to priority climate positions, more than double any other actor.

I’m Out by Harry Gantz

Democracy Now with Naomi Klein

Bryan Stevenson: Finding the Courage for What’s RedemptiveBeyond Colonial Histories: Transatlantic Slave Trade 

The American Indian Movement 

What Oppenheimer Left Out on The Red Nation Podcast


Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions by Denise Fairchild

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Reggie Rucker: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Building Local Power. I am your co-host, Reggie Rucker. And on this episode of this season we’re calling How to Get Away With Merger, we move away from mergers and acquisitions in the waste industry, but stay on the topic of how corporate consolidation hurts our ability to preserve our land and our planet for the strength of our communities today and the health of communities tomorrow. We’re going to talk energy utilities, and to get into it, let me throw it over to my co-host, who is pure sunshine and the wind in building local power sails, Luke Gannon. What’s up, Luke?
Luke Gannon: Aw, thank you so much, Reggie. You are too sweet. Avangrid, backed by its parent company, Iberdrola, tried to buy Public Service Company of New Mexico, known locally as PNM. But let’s jump right into the interview.
Mariel Nanasi is the executive director of the New Energy Economy in New Mexico. The New Energy Economy strives to build a renewable energy future for our collective health and environment. In 2021, New Mexicans said no to Avangrid buying PNM, but Avangrid didn’t take no for an answer and appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. Just last month, Mariel argued against the merger, and today we have the pleasure of having her on the show to hear exactly what is happening. So thank you so much for joining us, Mariel.
Mariel Nanasi: Thank you for having me.
Luke Gannon: I want to start off by taking a step back and looking at what the energy industry looks like in New Mexico as a whole. So can you tell us who are the big players and how much of the market do they control?
Mariel Nanasi: So PNM is called Public Service Company of New Mexico. They are the largest electric monopoly in New Mexico and they have about 530,000 customers. There’s only two million people in New Mexico, and PNM serves about 72%, I think, of the entire New Mexico market. There’s a number of small electric co-ops that are mostly in the rural areas, and then there are two other electric monopolies, El Paso Electric in the southern portion of our state, and also Southwest Public Service that has an even smaller monopoly, but both the other IOUs, investor-owned utilities, are also monopoly utilities.
Reggie Rucker: And then so, Mariel, can you jump into what was it about the makeup of the market, the interest of the players that had Iberdrola and Avangrid interested in wanting to merge with PNM? What were they looking to accomplish?
Mariel Nanasi: So let me just say that Avangrid is a 30-something billion dollar company in the United States and has multiple subsidiary monopoly utilities, including gas and electric utilities. Iberdrola is its parent, and Iberdrola owns 81.5% of Avangrid, and Iberdrola is like a 136 billion dollar company, and it’s a worldwide company with most investments in gas and nuclear and then wind. Avangrid is looking to expand the market in the United States, in particular in the west.
Basically, what happened was is there was a cap on the profits, if you can imagine that, in Spain, where Iberdrola is dominant. And so it was looking to expand its financial portfolio. They have had a history, Iberdrola has, of being kicked out of a couple of Central American and South American countries, and just sold off a big portion of their Mexican interests. And so they had a bunch of cash and they wanted to spend it and try to, what they said, literally what they were calling, to form a beachhead, which is a military term from where you land and then you further attack. And that’s what the CEO testified to when he was testifying at the merger proceedings when they attempted to merge with PNM, and New Energy Economy led the opposition to that merger.
Luke Gannon: I do want to get a little bit more background on this. You said Avangrid is looking to expand the market in the U.S., and they have already tried doing that on the eastern part of the United States in Maine. So can you give us a little background into some of these states that they have tried to expand in, and why that has helped guide your research and your fight against them in New Mexico?
Mariel Nanasi: Yeah, so just like a college admission person looks at the grades that you have when you’re in high school, or a landlord looks at a tenant’s past history, or when you’re buying a car you look under the hood, we start to dig into the past background, the track record essentially, of Avangrid in Maine, where it owns Central Maine Power; in Connecticut, where it owns United Illuminating; in New York, where it owns two electric and gas utilities. And what we found was that their history was atrocious.
An electric utility has to do two primary things. One is provide electricity, the second is bill customers for it, and they failed on both. And so the outage record, the blackouts, the brownouts, the billing: atrocities, atrocities. They called it in New York a billing crisis. Have you ever seen 32 legislators in New York rally, actually perform a demonstration, when Avangrid asked for its latest rate increase there in New York? And then the governors of Maine and New York in particular have really spoken out against the track record of Avangrid and its subsidiary utilities, and used words like, “Their performance was abysmal,” the governor of Maine called it.
So we had a lot to go on. And really there was this scathing audit that happened that was concluded and filed in the main docket, in the regulatory docket, about one month before our hearing. It detailed the malfeasance and incompetencies of Avangrid, and said that they were more interested in shareholder profits than they were in performing basic services. And so that was a very important and influential report, because first of all, it was 130 pages, and as I said, it gave a methodical… It was an audit. A woman in a mobile home got a $1,300 electric bill, which is crazy. And then when they tried to call customer service to complain about it, it took them three years to fix the billing problems. And people would be waiting on the phone for hours and hours and would never get their bills corrected. And anyway, there’s a class action lawsuit pending as a result of that billing debacle in Maine, let alone the billing crisis in New York.
So this is not the kind of company that we wanted to come. We want to transition as quickly as possible from fossil fuels to renewables, which in New Mexico we have an abundance of solar and wind, and Avangrid’s track record in that department is also not good. They have a great PR firm, which has three beautiful little leaves on it as their logo. But the fact of the matter is they have 2% solar in their entire portfolio. They support hydrogen, which we’re opposed to, and they support nuclear, which we’re also opposed to, and they support gas. And then also, they have so much money that they undermine the democratic process by investing heavily in PACs, political action committees, that undermine the democratic process.
They’ve invested in other kinds of associations like Edison Electric Institute and other gas associations that work to undermine climate legislation in Connecticut, in other places. There was a Brown University report that was done about the companies and the agencies that are hired by those companies and that deny climate or work hard to postpone climate legislation or water it down, and they found that Avangrid was one of the top offenders.
There is basically no reason that we want Avangrid to come and merge with PNM, so that’s why we fought it. And against all odds, we won. It was a huge David and Goliath fight, but we won in front of the hearing examiner. We won in front of a bipartisan, unanimous public regulation commission in huge victory, and then they appealed, and we just defended our victory before the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Luke Gannon: Can you walk us through the dates of when this is all happening?
Mariel Nanasi: So they filed their case in November of 2020. The hearing on the merger was in August of 2021. The decision to deny the merger was in December of 2021. Avangrid and PNM and Iberdrola jointly appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court a month later in January 2022. And last month, I argued to defend the victory on appeal in the New Mexico Supreme Court. So sometime, I imagine that somewhere in November or December, but maybe January, we will hear a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Luke Gannon: In this three-year span, there has been a lot of organized opposition from the public. This season is called How to Get Away With Merger. It’s about a lot of these mergers that go through. This is actually our first that hopefully doesn’t. So can you talk about what were the strategies that you all used? How did you do this?
Mariel Nanasi: Well, first of all, every single day I worked about 12 hours for about eight months. But I had a great team, and also we had a multi-layered strategy. So there was a political strategy, there was a legal strategy, there’s a communication strategy, and it was a sort of no stone left unturned kind of effort. There was a lot of grassroots efforts. This was, in particular, a really a bad idea because of Avangrid’s track record.
We had a lot of material to work with. We put up a really good legal fight. I didn’t lose a single motion during the entire case, and we fought really hard. Plus there was this pending criminal case against the CEO of Iberdrola in Spain for forgery and bribery and for following environmentalists for opposing their gas plant that they were proposing. They had so much money. They gave so much money to Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s the governor of New Mexico. They definitely spread the wealth around to try to buy their way in. And we just got lucky with a courageous administrative law judge, who wrote a spectacular 450-page recommended decision recommending against the merger. But we also, we laid out the facts, so we did a good job in that way.
And the other thing is they wanted to consolidate the market, and they said so. They said, “We want to create a beachhead and consolidate the market.” We don’t need a consolidation of the market. That wouldn’t be a good thing for New Mexico. We want a robust renewable energy competitive market. And so we want to move away from the monopoly stranglehold and really open up the market.
Luke Gannon: You’ve spoken about it a little bit, but this visioning question on what would this mean for communities? What would this mean for New Mexicans across the state if it’s blocked? How would this restore a just energy future?
Mariel Nanasi: I’ve alluded to some of the shenanigans that Avangrid has been involved in in other places, you know, funding of PACs and big campaign political contributions, which I think that they doubled from ’20 to ’21 or ’21 to ’22. But that’s where they’re going. That’s who they are. And we know what the result of that is. That’s how we’re at this crisis of climate, which is the undermining of democracy. And we see that the United States Congress and we see that in our states. We see that in Ohio and Illinois with campaign contributions to bail out utilities for the terrible decision-making that they’ve engaged in, whether it’s nuclear or coal.
And this would put that on steroids, because PNM, frankly, does all that stuff, but they don’t do a lot of it. They’re like minor leagues, but Avangrid and Iberdrola have so much money and so much access to cash, like they pay for their awards. You know what I mean? And then they go and say, “Oh, we’re an ethical company because we’ve actually paid for an ethical award.” You know, like crazy stuff, right? But they just do it and do and do it. And then we’re, as grassroots activists, and we’re trying to dig up the truth about all of this stuff. So it would make it much more difficult if they were here.
But we want to move away from a monopoly, electric monopolies. We want to move towards public power, and we want to have more choices like community solar, and we want to have, and of course, get more access for low income folks to have solar on their roofs, because that’s really about building self-sufficiency, right? And so we want to move in the exact opposite direction and create more democracy, more energy democracy. That’s why we fought them, and that’s what we’re hoping to invest in, and invest in our communities, people-powered solar and locally owned solar.
Reggie Rucker: It’s great you exude passion and energy and a lot of strategic smarts about this work and how to succeed in this work. So the question is, is there a book that you would recommend to folks out there who are interested in this issue, who are concerned about utility monopolies and corporate control over the necessary infrastructure?
Mariel Nanasi: Well, I have to say that first of all, I think that all issues are connected, and so race and class and energy and democracy, all of these things are interwoven. So I’m just going to tell you my favorite people. Bryan Stevenson from Equality Justice, and sometimes when I’m down, I just listen to him because I used to be a criminal defense lawyer, and he defends people who are on death row and innocent people as well as not. And so I love him and respect him and find him motivational and just really has the North Star for justice. So that’s somebody who I love.
Naomi Klein is another person I love. I’m going to get her new book, Doppelganger. I saw the interview on Democracy Now with her about that, and I’m fascinated. Because we are living in very dark times, and there is a growth of fascism and we have to take that extraordinarily seriously. And basically what she’s saying is you can’t look away. And so I think that that is super important right now for us. And then in terms of just energy, there’s a book called Energy Democracy, which I would say is kind of like a bible, and it’s about the liberation of people from the energy monopolies and their enormous control.
This reporter said to me, “Why do you keep fighting Mariel? You know you’re going to lose. Money’s going to win, and they just have all the money.” I just said, “Well, if that’s what happens, it happens, but I’m going to speak the truth and I’m going to tell people like it is.” And then look, we won. If you give up, you already have lost, right? The only chance is if we fight back. And so we’ve got to use our talents to do so, and then we have a chance. We have a chance. And love and family and the Earth is worth fighting for.
Luke Gannon: Once again, a big thanks to Mariel Nanasi at New Energy Economy for joining us on the show today. Please find all of the resources that Mariel mentioned in the show notes.
On the second half of today’s episode, we are hearing from Krystal Curley, the executive director of Indigenous Lifeways and a member of Public Power New Mexico. But before we jump into that, I’m going to pass it to my co-host, who lights up all of my days, Reggie Rucker. Over to you, Reggie.
Reggie Rucker: Thank you, Luke. So look, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I consider myself to be optimistic about our prospects for the future, but every time I get to hear someone like Mariel share her story, and Krystal, who’s coming up next, share hers, I’m reminded why this isn’t just a naive optimism of fanciful hope. I know these corporate powers have the big money, the connections and the influence, but they don’t have Mariel, they don’t have Krystal. And that’s where my optimism comes from. And from talking with these folks, I know what they need is our optimism, our belief in them and in us. It fuels their work. It gives them the energy and the motivation to continue, which is why we need to build the army of people who believe, who have hope, to fuel the folks who are making a difference in their communities, for all communities.
And you can help build this army by sharing this episode with some folks who care about this work and just need a bit of optimism to know we can and will win these fights. So if you’ll forget later, pause this episode, share it with the first couple of folks who come to mind, and then come right back, as Luke takes you through another powerful story. Stick around.
Luke Gannon: On the second half of today’s show, Krystal Curley emphasizes how Mother Earth has provided us with everything to sustain our lives. In return, we must take care of her. She underlines the harms that large utility companies have on people and the land. But let’s start from the beginning of her story. Here’s Krystal.
Krystal Curley: My name is Krystal Curley [Native American 00:20:58], and I’m from a place called [Native American 00:21:06]. It’s about 20 miles south of Gallup, New Mexico, and headed towards Zuni Pueblo, so I like to say I have best of both worlds living on my ancestral homelands. I think when I speak about my clans, I’m Towering House and born for the Red House clan. My [Native American 00:21:33], my paternal grandfathers, are The One Who Walks Around. And then my maternal grandparents are the Mexican People clan. And so I feel like my clans have a lot to do with my upbringing. For two of my clans, they’re one of the original four clans. And so with that, you have a lot of obligations, and I think it’s just a natural way of being in leadership.
I really like to recognize the matriarchs that have raised me. My grandmother, she was their… I believe… Well, I know. Well, the one that I know personally, but I know my ancestors have really just paved the path for me, but my grandmother, my mom’s mom, she has just been very influential in the social justice movement. When she was about 23, she didn’t know that much English. And this was 1940s, and she went to the Bay Area and she lived majority of her life until she had Alzheimer’s, she had to move back.
But when she started living there, she started learning English from our African American relatives, and they started figuring out and recognizing our struggles out on the reservation where my grandma’s from. And they really encouraged my grandma to speak out. We didn’t have running water or electricity, and so they really encouraged my grandma to go home and start a petition. And so my mom helped with that petition. We finally got running water. My mom also was right under the wing of my grandma. So my mom was able to be at Alcatraz takeover when Martin Luther King was assassinated. My grandmother marched along with her sisters and recognized the urgency for social justice, civil rights. And so that was very instilled into my mother.
My father as well. He had a wild upbringing. He is a residential school survivor, boarding school survivor, and so the church really took him over. But what saved my mom and my dad’s life was the American Indian Movement. That brought my parents together, and so I like to say that I’m an AIM baby because that’s the lens and that’s the perspective that I was raised in. So I was raised going to Mother Earth gatherings, going to different gatherings just as an infant. I was at the Dilkon first gathering for indigenous environmental network gathering. I was just a baby. And so my mom tells all these stories. And so that’s how I was raised, just going to these big gatherings just as elementary school student. One of my first real intense marches was at a demonstration against the Los Alamos test site laboratories in Los Alamos. I was only eight-years-old, but I was able to see our people, like Wes Studi and other supporters, get arrested that day. And so I’ve just really have recognized and know the impacts of colonization, of capitalism.
How we got into the environmental justice movement is when we got water, they never tested our water for any kind of contamination. So there were low level amounts of uranium inside of our water. So from that experience, there was a lot of health impacts from that in my community. And so my mom got into the uranium awareness education and really advocating against uranium mining and development extraction. And so the Southwest Indigenous Uranium Forum is how Indigenous Lifeways grew out of that initiative over 30 years ago.
And so for Indigenous Lifeways, I’m the executive director for, that’s where our work is based out of, is that work from doing uranium forums locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally with other indigenous frontline communities across the world that have been impacted against environmental racism.
Luke Gannon: Krystal is the executive director of Indigenous Lifeways, an organization that began its journey three decades ago with the Southwest Indigenous Uranium Forum. Over the years, Indigenous Lifeways has expanded its mission to address the global impact of environmental racism on indigenous communities.
Krystal Curley: Our work really stems from is really advocating and bringing awareness education to our communities about the different impacts of extraction, going beyond just uranium. But we have 140 years of extraction from coal industry first. There’s the railroad, there’s oil and gas now, there’s fracking. Now there’s hydrogen. And my community is made up of nearly 80% indigenous identifying folks. So that really paints a picture of where I’m from and the impacts of these extraction industry. My family likes to call them war criminals, the energy war criminals, these types of industry.
And so we know the tactics that they use, how they mislead us, the propaganda that is used, the millions of dollars that’s funneled to propaganda greenwashing. So how it funnels down to us, it’s the same tactics that they use for coal. It’s economic development, it’s jobs. It’s: “We’re going to bring in all this funding and your family is going to be able to buy a house and vehicles.” And when you’re talking to a community that doesn’t have that, we really have a lot of impacts on housing, transportation issues. I mean, the list can go on.
But yeah, what sustains us and sustains the movement of our work is ceremony and recognizing sacred sites, recognizing our traditional stories around these elements that we’re protecting of water, of our land, the plants, the animals, the microorganisms, the air, even the fire that’s within Mother Earth. That’s what we’re trying to protect.
Luke Gannon: Indigenous Lifeways and the New Energy Economy have had a longstanding relationship with the commitment to put electricity back into the hands of the people. Mariel helped inform ally organizations about the Avangrid and PNM merger, including Indigenous Lifeways.
Krystal Curley: The very sneaky ways that these utility companies are able to mislead our communities. We know PNM isn’t for the people. We know these utility companies are just in it for themselves and wanting to make money. We know PNM and a lot of these places where they get power from is in our homelands in the Four Corners. And so it’s not surprising, unfortunately, that PNM would consider doing these types of mergers with Avangrid that doesn’t have a… It just has a laundry list of crimes that they’ve done against people. Really just misled not just our communities not just in New Mexico, not just on with the Navajo Nation, but it’s across the world. These multimillion billion dollar companies that have the capacity to mislead and hire people to greenwash advertisement to they have… There’s these scientists, and they’re misleading data to prove their points. But when we’re really able to expose these data, expose their financial schemes for climate change, and what we’re trying to do is just expose the fault solutions that they’re wanting to promote in this time.
So I’m also a PNM consumer. They don’t tell consumers about these types of mergers or tell them the effects of it, what the long-term implications are for these contracts that they’re doing. And when we’re not given the chance to choose or know where our power comes from, that really displaces our people and our opportunities to really do a good job at phasing out fossil fuels, even in our own use.
So when our opportunities are limited from these utilities and they’re misleading us, telling us that hydrogen’s the way or clean nuclear or clean coal’s the way, then this is where it really causes a problem and misleads our tribal government, our local leaders, our organizers, and it causes a divide in our people on what’s really the truth and what are we really protecting.
Luke Gannon: These large utility companies like Avangrid are extracting power, natural resources, and wealth from communities. Krystal envisions a world where there is a restored connection between people and the land.
Krystal Curley: For me, bringing back the connection to the natural world for all people. What severed that connection is colonization and capitalism. That’s what it’s based off of for thousands of years. And so for us as just mere human beings from all over the world, we’ve had this natural connection. We know the powers of the air, the wind, the earth, the fire. We know the powers of prayer. We know the powers of sacred sites all over the world. Everybody has this connection, this universal celestial knowledge of that connection to that natural world and being a natural human being. My hopes is that we continue to be in alignment with all of the things that are around us, and that this movement continues to bring out those values of humans universal all over the world. We’re all at one point are indigenous. We just have to bring it out. We all have those roots, you know, talking about Chaco, talking about Stonehenge, the pyramids from all over the world. These are the sacred sites. These are the knowledge that we have to continue to protect because that’s our connection to the natural world and beyond.
So that’s what I hope and envision, because once that is able to be, then we realize and we understand why we have to protect the water, why we have to protect the land and our homelands and where we come from, understand the knowledge and the stories. It goes real deep, and I think when we’re able to have that connection, we’re healing bloodlines, we’re healing our blood cells. Our blood memory is going to ignite when we start learning these ways of the natural world.
Luke Gannon: Krystal has a very timely book recommendation.
Krystal Curley: So one book that we really recommend to a lot of people, even before they said they were going to make a movie about it, is Killers of the Flower Moon. That book has been an incredible eyeopener to what this industry, the bloodshed that this industry is willing to do to gain money and resources and land. And I am really looking forward to the movie, but I am just really, if you really want to get a really good look, I highly encourage reading the book, because it has incredible testimonies at the end of bringing it to now what the Osage relatives are experiencing, even to this day for generations, but it’s just barely 100 years ago.
And the Osage people were the richest people in the U.S. at that point. And to see that story… It’s going to be a really incredible movie, but like I said, it’s very triggering to see what has happened to our people in the past. And from it, that’s where the FBI was born, out of this type of incidences with indigenous people. So I really encourage you read the book because it’s just like… I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t put it down. I read it within days.
Luke Gannon: Thank you so much, Krystal, for your stories, deep wisdom, and knowledge. It was such a pleasure having you on the show today. This episode is airing at the perfect time for Krystal’s book recommendation, because the Killers of the Flower Moon movie airs in theaters tomorrow, October 20th. Please read the book and check out the movie.
I would like to uplift a couple of resources to learn more about what Krystal mentioned in this episode. The American Indian Movement, or AIM, was founded in Minnesota in 1968 to address systemic issues of poverty, discrimination, and police brutality against Native Peoples. Today, AIM supports indigenous movements across the country. To learn more, please see the show notes, where I will link to AIM’s website and additional resources. To learn more about the Los Alamos testing site that Krystal mentioned, check out an episode on the Red Nation podcast called What Oppenheimer Left Out, also in the show notes. And please do check out the show notes to learn more about the incredible work of Indigenous Lifeways. Thanks for staying tuned.
Reggie Rucker: Yes, thank you both. And thanks to all of you for listening all the way to the end. I assume that means you like this episode, so please share with even just one person you think will enjoy it too. We have a goal of 10,000 listens for this episode. Help us get there. If you’re not a subscriber to the podcast yet, make sure to hit that subscribe button so you know when every new episode drops. And of course, your donations are essential to help us keep this podcast going and support the research and resources that we make available on our website for free. We truly welcome and appreciate it all.
And last, if you have feedback for us or want to share a story about how your community approaches this issue, send us an email to We’d love to share these on a special mailbag episode one day. We’ll keep an eye out. This show is produced by Luke Gannon and me, Reggie Rucker. This podcast is edited by Luke Gannon and Andrew Frank. The music for the season is also composed by Andrew Frank. Thank you so much for listening to Building Local Power.

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Podcast produced by Reggie Rucker and Luke Gannon

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