El Paso Electric Ordered to Give Refunds

POSTED: Friday, January 29, 2010 - 5:50pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:26pm

ALBUQUERQUE--- The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission issued an order requiring El Paso Electric to stop collecting a franchise fee and repay $5.6 million to Doña Ana and Otero counties electric customers, said the commission spokesman in a statement.

According to commissioners, EPE must pay the refund over a three-year period plus interest. The decision came in the court's regular meeting Tuesday.

More than $5.3 million in fees is owed to customers in Doña Ana County, and more than $280,000 to customers in Otero County, said Gerald Garner Jr., the NMPRC spokesman.

El Paso Electric is appealing the 4-1 vote by commissioners to the New Mexico State Supreme Court.

Doña Ana County has contracted an attorney to keep an eye on the suit, saying their contract with El Paso Electric authorizes the utility to collect money to pay for use of right-of-ways to maintain their equipment, said county spokesman Jess Williams.

"That doesn't have anything to do with franchise fees," he said.

Although the fees, which clearly state "franchise fees" on the El Paso Electric utility bill, have been collected since 1999, customers will only see refunds from June 1, 2004 through now, said Garner.

That reflects the time when the fees became a separate line item on the bills, which some Commissioners said came without their review or approval, he said.

Customers should expect around 2 percent fewer charges on each bill, said Garner.

Should the state Supreme Court uphold the commissioners' decision, Doña Ana County may possibly take legal action as well, said spokesman Williams.

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