Gas Company, customers will benefit from TECO acquisition

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By Carla Sonntag

There has been relatively little publicity about the application pending before the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) for TECO Energy to acquire New Mexico Gas Company.
However, approving the application, which has been pending since July 9, 2013, will bring many benefits to the state.
TECO Energy, based in Tampa, Fla., is a large utility holding company with more than $7 billion in assets and a strong credit rating. It has been in the utility business for more than a century and has an exemplary record of providing excellent gas service and a reputation for safety practices that has earned it recognition for excellence by the American Gas Association. TECO has been a driving force in Florida in leading economic development efforts and intends to do the same in New Mexico, which could contribute significantly to our economic recovery.
TECO has been successful in helping businesses convert to natural gas vehicles that if its successes can be replicated here, would be a boon for New Mexico’s economy and environment. Natural gas vehicles are a new focus for the Farmington area, which is rich in this plentiful resource. This could be an incredible opportunity to further this industry while jumpstarting the Four Corners’ area economy.
TECO has undertaken an extensive process to assure that the integration of New Mexico Gas Company is done with considerable care to assure that nothing jeopardizes service reliability or causes rates to increase unnecessarily. It has also promised to make annual investments in service reliability projects, which would benefit the construction industry and help avoid service interruptions like those experienced in February 2011.
Recent reports that 136 employees in New Mexico will lose their jobs due to this acquisition are inaccurate. While the thought of losing even a single job is unpleasant, it’s important to understand what is being considered and how it will be handled.
Job reductions would only occur when efficiency and lower costs could be achieved so that rates can be lower in the future than they otherwise would be. No job reductions will occur that would jeopardize service reliability. TECO has also made it clear that not all job reductions would occur in New Mexico — some would happen in Florida.
Furthermore, TECO expects that most job reductions would be voluntary and any New Mexico Gas employees who lose their jobs would receive severance packages, which will help them as they transition to a “second career” or retirement.
TECO has stated that it has no intentions of moving New Mexico Gas headquarters from Albuquerque, nor does it plan to eliminate positions that deal with service reliability.
My position as executive director of the New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance allows me the perspective of looking at Commission cases from both a customer viewpoint and the investor perspective, because many thousands of utility investors in New Mexico are also customers.
A strong, financially healthy, well-run utility is beneficial to everyone; TECO is a company that can bring that to its ownership of New Mexico Gas.
I urge New Mexicans to look objectively at the benefits TECO would bring to customers and our great state as a whole, and to let the PRC know that it should approve the application promptly.
Approval by the Commission will send a positive message that New Mexico is a business-friendly state, ultimately benefitting customers and New Mexico’s economy alike.
The New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance (NMUSA) is a nonprofit grassroots organization that represents shareholders of gas and electric utility companies operating in New Mexico. For more information, visit nmusa.org.