Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Ohio Power Siting Board granting Duke Energy Ohio, Inc. a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need to construct, operate, and maintain a natural-gas pipeline, holding that the Board's decision was not manifestly against the weight of the evidence and was not so clearly unsupported by the record as to show a mistake or willful disregard of duty.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) assuming without deciding that the Board misapplied its filing requirements, the error was harmless; (2) the Board did not err in determining that Duke's proposal met the conditions of Ohio Rev. Code 4906.10(A)(1); (3) the Board properly accounted for the interest of safety in evaluating Duke's proposal; (4) the Board did not err by not requiring Duke to evaluate the pipeline's impact against the City of Blue Ash's most recent comprehensive plan; (5) the Board did not err in evaluating the pipeline's estimated tax benefits; and (6) the Board did not deprive Blue Ash of due process of law. View "In re Application of Duke Energy Ohio, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) allowing a gas company to charge its customers higher rates, holding that the PUCO erred by approving the rate increase.At issue was whether Suburban Natural Gas Company's customers must pay for a 4.9-mile extension of the company's pipeline. The PUCO determined that the pipeline extension met the "used-and-useful" test as of a specified date and approved the rate increase. See Ohio Rev. Code 4909.15(A)(1). The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the PUCO looked beyond whether the entire 4.9-mile extension was used and useful on the applicable date and considered whether it was a prudent investment because it might prove useful in the future; and (2) therefore, the PUCO erred in evaluating the rate increase. View "In re Application of Suburban Natural Gas Co." on Justia Law

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Portland Street Solar LLC appealed a Public Utility Commission order denying Portland Street’s petition for a certificate of public good (CPG) to install and operate a 500-kW solar group net-metering system adjacent to a previously permitted solar array owned by Golden Solar, LLC. Interpreting the definition of “plant” set forth in 30 V.S.A. 8002(18), the Commission determined that the proposed Portland Street project would be part of a single plant along with the already-approved adjacent Golden Solar project and thus would exceed the 500-kw energy-generating-capacity limit applicable in the net-metering program. On appeal, Portland Street argued the Commission’s decision was inconsistent with the Vermont Supreme Court’s controlling precedent, as well as prior Commission decisions involving similar cases, and that the Commission exceeded its statutory authority by expansively construing the component parts of section 8002(18) that defined the characteristics of a single plant. Applying the appropriate deferential standard of review, the Supreme Court concluded the Commission’s self-described expanded and refined interpretation of what constituted a single plant under section 8002(18) was not arbitrary, unreasonable, or discriminatory and did not amount to compelling error that would require the Court to intervene in matters the Legislature has delegated to the Commission’s expertise. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commission’s decision denying Portland Street’s petition for a CPG to install and operate its proposed facility under the net-metering program. View "In re Petition of Portland Street Solar LLC" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission denied an individual’s request for a hearing regarding a reported natural gas leak and whether the leak constituted “waste” under Alaska law. The agency concluded it had no jurisdiction over the matter because it previously had investigated and had concluded the leak did not constitute “waste.” The individual appealed to the superior court, which affirmed the agency’s decision. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed, finding the individual's request for a hearing was improperly denied: "The Commission has jurisdiction over waste determinations, and substantial evidence does not support its assertion that it investigated and concluded this leak was not waste." View "French v. Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review centered on a challenge to the lieutenant governor’s decision that the sponsors of an initiative, “An Act changing the oil and gas production tax for certain fields, units, and nonunitized reservoirs on the North Slope,” had collected enough signatures to allow the initiative to appear on the ballot in the 2020 general election. Entities opposed to the initiative argued that signatures should not have been counted because the signature gatherers (the circulators) falsely certified that their compensation complied with Alaska election law. The statute governing circulator compensation allows them to be paid no more than “$1 a signature.” The superior court decided that this statute was unconstitutional because it imposed an unreasonable burden on core political speech — “interactive communication concerning political change.” It therefore concluded that the lieutenant governor properly counted the challenged signatures and properly certified the initiative petition for the ballot. The entities opposed to the initiative filed this appeal. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in August 2020, and on August 31 issued a summary order affirming the superior court’s judgment. This opinion explained the Court's decision. View "In re Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants in this trespass-to-try-title suit between the lessees of adjacent mineral estates, holding that the court of appeals erred.In its complaint, Plaintiff claimed that Defendants drilled wells either on Plaintiff's leasehold or closer to the lease line than allowed by Railroad Commission rules. Defendants argued in response that Plaintiff ratified an agreed boundary line, foreclosing Plaintiff's trespass claims. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that a boundary stipulation between the fee owners of the two mineral estates, which Plaintiff accepted, was void and could not be ratified. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the boundary stipulation was valid and that Defendants conclusively established their ratification defense. View "Concho Resources, Inc. v. Ellison" on Justia Law

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Several utilities that are managed by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a regional transmission operator, paid for upgrades to the transmission grid. The operative tariff required other utilities who benefitted from these upgrades to share the costs of the expanded network. The tariff, however, also required SPP to invoice the charges monthly and to make adjustments within one year. The reimbursement calculation proved complicated. It took SPP eight years to implement it, during which time SPP did not invoice for the upgrade charges. FERC initially granted SPP a waiver of the tariff’s one-year time bar but later determined it lacked the authority to waive this provision retroactively. FERC’s revised determination meant the utilities that had made substantial outlays for upgrades were denied reimbursement for the eight years that had elapsed.The D.C. Circuit denied petitions for review filed by SPP and a company that sponsored upgrades and has been denied reimbursement. Once a tariff is filed, FERC has no statutory authority (16 U.S.C. 824d(d)) to provide equitable exceptions or retroactive modifications to the tariff. SPP may impose only those charges contained in the filed rate. Because the one-year time bar for billing is part of the filed rate, FERC could not retroactively waive it, even to remedy a windfall for users of the upgraded networks. View "Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the court of appeals granting Defendant's petition for a writ of prohibition of the first class, thereby vacating the circuit court's denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claim for breach of contract, holding that the court of appeals did not err.Plaintiffs were Kentucky landowners who leased their land to Defendant, an oil and gas producer. Plaintiffs filed a breach of contract class action suit alleging that Defendant impermissibly deducted severance taxes as a post-production cost before paying them royalties. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on grounds that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs did not meet the required amount in controversy. The circuit court denied the motion. Defendant then sought a writ of prohibition. The court of appeals granted the writ. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs did not meet the required amount in controversy, and therefore, the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. View "Imhoff v. Honorable House" on Justia Law

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In this action brought under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act of 1971 (CEPA), Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-14 et seq., seeking an injunction requiring a nuclear power plant in Waterford to convert to a closed-cycle cooling system, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the trial court in favor of Defendants, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff sued the Commissioner of Environmental Protection and the owner and operator of the power plant, claiming that a previous permit approval proceeding was inadequate to protect the rights recognized by CEPA and that the current operation of the power plant would result in unreasonable pollution. The trial court granted Defendants' motions to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff could not prevail on her claim that the administrative proceeding was inadequate; and (2) this Court declined to review Plaintiff's claim that she established that unreasonable pollution would result from the power plant's operation as permitted. View "Burton v. Department of Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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Entergy, a public utility holding company, owns five operating companies that sell electricity in four states, including Louisiana. The companies have been governed by an agreement requiring them to act as a “single economic unit” and requiring “rough equalization” of their production costs. In 2005, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) determined that the production costs were not roughly equal and imposed a “bandwidth remedy”: Whenever the yearly production costs of an individual operating company deviated from the average by more than 11%, companies with lower costs were required to pay companies with higher costs as necessary to bring all five companies within that range. Entergy filed a tariff establishing a formula to calculate production costs subject to the bandwidth remedy, which FERC largely accepted.Utilities often spread their recovery of large, non-recurring costs by creating a regulatory asset, a type of credit. The company then amortizes the asset in later years, creating debits chargeable to customers. Historically, the Entergy companies recorded regulatory assets and their related amortization expenses in FERC accounts not referenced in the bandwidth formula; this effectively accounted for deferred production costs when they were incurred, rather than when the related amortization expenses were recorded. FERC rejected that approach and excluded purchased-power costs that a Louisiana affiliate incurred in 2005 and amortized in 2008 and 2009.The D.C. Circuit denied the Louisiana Public Service Commission’s petition for review. The Federal Power Act requires electric utilities to charge “just and reasonable” rates. 16 U.S.C. 824d(a). If FERC finds a rate unreasonable, it may establish a just and reasonable rate; FERC may reallocate production costs under the Entergy system agreement, including by ensuring compliance with the bandwidth remedy. View "Louisiana Public Service Commission v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law