Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In this case, the Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District reviewed a decision by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to adopt a new net energy metering (NEM) tariff. The PUC was required by the Legislature to create a successor tariff to the existing NEM scheme, which utilities argued overcompensated owners of renewable energy systems for their exported energy, raising electricity costs for customers without such systems.The petitioners, Center for Biological Diversity, Inc., Environmental Working Group, and The Protect our Communities Foundation, contended that the successor tariff did not comply with various requirements of section 2827.1 of the Public Utilities Code. The petitioners argued that the tariff failed to consider the social benefits of customer-generated power, improperly favored the interests of utility customers who did not own renewable systems, failed to promote sustainable growth of renewable energy, and neglected alternatives to promote the growth of renewable systems among customers in disadvantaged communities.The court affirmed the PUC's decision. It held that the PUC had appropriately balanced the various objectives set out by the Legislature in section 2827.1. The court found that the successor tariff was designed to reduce the financial advantage previously given to owners of renewable energy systems under the NEM tariff, which the court said was consistent with the Legislature's aim of balancing costs and benefits to all customers. The court also noted that the PUC had adopted programs to make renewable energy systems more accessible to low-income customers, satisfying the requirement to ensure growth among residential customers in disadvantaged communities.Lastly, the court concluded that the PUC's decision to apply the same tariff to both residential and nonresidential customers was justified, as the nonresidential NEM 2.0 tariff, while cost-effective for the electrical system as a whole, did not balance costs and benefits among all customers. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Public Utilities Com." on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over a tariff adopted by the Public Utilities Commission (Commission) of the State of California that affects the compensation utilities provide to customers for excess electricity generated by renewable energy systems. The tariff, known as the net energy metering (NEM) tariff, previously required utilities to purchase excess electricity from renewable systems at the same price customers pay for electricity. However, utilities complained that this overcompensated the owners of renewable systems and raised the cost of electricity for customers without renewable systems. In response, the California Legislature enacted a law requiring the Commission to adopt a successor tariff that promotes the continued sustainable growth of renewable power generation while balancing costs and benefits to all customers.Several environmental groups challenged the Commission's newly adopted successor tariff, asserting that it did not comply with various statutory requirements. The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District upheld the Commission's tariff. The court found that the Commission's successor tariff adequately served the various objectives of the law and was based on a reasonable interpretation of its statutory mandate. The court also found that the Commission's decision to value exported energy from renewable systems based on the marginal cost of energy to the utilities was a reasonable approach to fulfilling the law's requirement to balance the equities among all customers. The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that the Commission had failed to properly account for the costs and benefits of renewable energy, and that it had improperly favored the interests of utility customers who do not own renewable systems. The court also found that the Commission had properly fulfilled the law's requirement to include specific alternatives designed for growth among residential customers in disadvantaged communities. The court affirmed the decision of the Commission. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Public Utilities Com." on Justia Law

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This appeal was the second relating to a suit brought by the City of Hesperia (the City) against respondents Lake Arrowhead Community Services District and the Board of Directors of Lake Arrowhead Community Services District (jointly, the District) regarding a proposed 0.96-megawatt solar photovoltaic project (the Solar Project) that the District had been planning to develop on six acres of a 350-acre property it owned, known as the Hesperia Farms Property. The Hesperia Farms Property was located within the City’s municipal boundary and was generally subject to the City’s zoning regulations. The District first approved its Solar Project in December 2015, after determining that the project was either absolutely exempt from the City’s zoning regulations under Government Code section 53091, or qualifiedly exempt under Government Code section 53096. The City sought a writ of mandate prohibiting the District from further pursuing the Solar Project. In Hesperia I, the Court of Appeal determined the District’s Solar Project was not exempt from the City’s zoning regulations under Government Code section 53091’s absolute exemption, or under Government Code section 53096’s qualified exemption. The Court concluded, however, that Government Code section 52096’s qualified exemption did not apply to the District’s approval of the Solar Project only because the District had failed to provide substantial evidence to support its conclusion that there was no other feasible alternative to its proposed location for the Solar Project. This result left open the possibility that the District could undertake further analyses and show that there was no feasible alternative to the Solar Project’s proposed location in order to avoid application of the City’s zoning ordinances. A few months after the District made its second no-feasible-alternative determination with respect to the Solar Project, the City filed a second petition for writ of mandate and complaint challenging the Solar Project. The trial court ultimately denied the City’s second petition. When the City appealed, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err in rejecting the City’s petition for writ of mandate. View "City of Hesperia v. Lake Arrowhead Community Services Dist." on Justia Law

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These original proceedings involve efforts by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC or the Commission) to discover whether the political activities of Southern California Gas Company (SCG) are funded by SCG’s shareholders, which is permissible, or ratepayers, which is not. The Commission propounded several discovery requests (called “Data Requests”) on SCG, and when SCG failed fully to comply, moved to compel further responses that ultimately resulted in an order to comply or face substantial penalties. SCG seeks a writ of mandate directing the Commission to rescind its order on the ground that the discovery requests infringe on SCG’s First Amendment rights.   The Second Appellate District granted the petition and held that SCG has shown that disclosure of the requested information will impact its First Amendment rights, and the Commission failed to show that its interest in determining whether SCG’s political efforts are impermissibly funded outweighs that impact. The court reasoned that because SCG demonstrated that a threat to its constitutional rights exists, the burden shifted to the Commission to demonstrate that the data requests serve and are narrowly tailored to a compelling governmental interest. However, the PAO’s discovery inquiries into all sources of funding for SCG’s lobbying activities go beyond ratepayer expenditures. Insofar as the requests seek information about shareholder expenditures, they exceed the PAO’s mandate to obtain the lowest possible costs for ratepayers and its authority to compel disclosure of information necessary for that task. The requests, therefore, are not carefully tailored to avoid unnecessary interference with SCG’s protected activities. View "So. Cal. Gas Co. v. P.U.C." on Justia Law

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The original proceedings involve efforts by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC or the Commission) to discover whether the political activities of Southern California Gas Company (SCG) are funded by SCG’s shareholders, which is permissible, or ratepayers, which is not. The Commission propounded several discovery requests (called “Data Requests”) on SCG, and when SCG failed fully to comply, moved to compel further responses that ultimately resulted in an order to comply or face substantial penalties. SCG seeks a writ of mandate directing the Commission to rescind its order on the ground that the discovery requests infringe on SCG’s First Amendment rights.   The Second Appellate District granted the petition. The court held that SCG has shown that disclosure of the requested information will impact its First Amendment rights, and the Commission failed to show that its interest in determining whether SCG’s political efforts are impermissibly funded outweighs that impact. The court explained that the Commission argues that sometimes SCG misclassifies expenditures, and has at times moved expenditures from ratepayer to shareholder accounts. But this just shows that a less invasive discovery process is working, and the PAO can confirm that no funds have been misclassified to ratepayer accounts by reviewing above-the-line accounts. Further, because the court will vacate Resolution ALJ-391 insofar as it compels disclosure of shareholder expenditures, no basis for sanctions exists. View "So. Cal. Gas Co. v. P.U.C." on Justia Law

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The City of Industry sued Cordoba Corporation, among others, after uncovering allegedly fraudulent billings for a solar energy development. Cordoba filed a cross-complaint, but the trial court granted the City’s special motion to strike it as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (Code Civ. Proc., Section 425.16), or anti-SLAPP motion.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the order. The court explained that Cordoba does not deny filing a lawsuit is protected activity. Instead, it argues its three causes of action arise not from the City’s petitioning activity, but from the City’s noncompliance with its contractual obligations. The court wrote that this is a distinction without a difference. Further, the court explained that the court properly struck Cordoba’s breach of contract claim because the conduct Cordoba attacked was protected petitioning activity. Moreover, the court held that Cordoba cannot satisfy its burden because each of its three causes of action fails to state a valid claim. View "Cordoba Corp. v. City of Industry" on Justia Law

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Blizzard Energy, Inc., appeals from an order denying its motion to declare Respondent a vexatious litigant and prohibit him “from filing any new litigation in propria persona in the California courts without first obtaining leave of the presiding judge of the court in which the litigation is proposed to be filed.”   The Second Appellate District reversed the order because the order was based on the trial court’s erroneous interpretation of section 391, subdivision (b)(1). The court explained that the trial court concluded that the statute does not apply to prior litigation commenced by the filing of a cross-complaint. However, the court held it does apply. Further, the court wrote that Appellant’s motion was authorized by section 391.7, subdivision (a), which provides: “[T]he court may, on its own motion or the motion of any party, enter a prefiling order which prohibits a vexatious litigant from filing any new litigation in the courts of this state in propria persona without first obtaining leave of the presiding justice or presiding judge of the court where the litigation is proposed to be filed. Disobedience of the order by a vexatious litigant may be punished as contempt of court.” View "Blizzard Energy v. Schaefers" on Justia Law

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In this case's previous trip to the Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment overturning a cleanup order issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley Region (Regional Board). The cleanup order directed Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to remediate hazardous waste associated with an abandoned mine in Plumas County. The mine was owned by the Walker Mining Company, a subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest, International Smelting and Refining Company and Anaconda Copper Mining Company (International/Anaconda). The Court of Appeal held the trial court improperly applied the test articulated in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998) for determining whether a parent company is directly liable for pollution as an operator of a polluting facility owned by a subsidiary. On remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Regional Board, concluding “[t]he record supported a determination of eccentric control of mining ‘operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.’ ” ARCO appealed, contending: (1) the trial court improperly applied Bestfoods to the facts of this case, resulting in a finding of liability that was unsupported by substantial evidence; (2) the Regional Board abused its discretion by failing to exclude certain expert testimony as speculative; (3) the Regional Board’s actual financial bias in this matter required invalidation of the cleanup order for violation of due process; and (4) the cleanup order erroneously imposed joint and several liability on ARCO. Finding no reversible error to this order, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

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Ordinances banning “land uses in support of” new oil and gas wells and “land uses in support of” wastewater injection in unincorporated areas of Monterey County were enacted as part of Measure Z, an initiative sponsored by PMC and passed by Monterey County voters.The trial court upheld, in part, a challenge to Measure Z by oil companies and other mineral rights holders. The court of appeal affirmed. Components of Measure Z are preempted by state laws. Public Resources Code section 3106 explicitly provides that the State of California’s oil and gas supervisor has the authority to decide whether to permit an oil and gas drilling operation to drill a new well or to utilize wastewater injection in its operations. Those operational aspects of oil drilling operations are committed by section 3106 to the state’s discretion and local regulation of these aspects would conflict with section 3106. View "Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law

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Malekeh Khosravan appealed the denial of her motion to strike or tax costs with respect to the expert witness fees incurred by defendants Chevron Corporation, Chevron U.S.A. Inc., and Texaco Inc. (Chevron defendants) following the trial court’s granting of the Chevron defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Malekeh and her husband Gholam Khosravan brought claims for negligence, premises liability, loss of consortium, and related claims, alleging Khosravan contracted mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos while he was an Iranian citizen working for the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) at the Abadan refinery the Khosravans alleged was controlled by the predecessors to the Chevron defendants, Exxon Mobil Corporation, and ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (Exxon defendants). The trial court concluded the Chevron and Exxon defendants did not owe a duty of care to Khosravan, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed. The trial court awarded the Chevron defendants their expert witness fees as costs based on the Khosravans’ failure to accept the Chevron defendants’ statutory settlement offers made to Khosravan and Malekeh under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. On appeal, Malekeh contended the trial court erred in denying the motion to strike or tax costs because the settlement offers required the Khosravans to indemnify the Chevron defendants against possible future claims of nonparties, making the offers impossible to value; the Khosravans obtained a more favorable judgment than the offers in light of the indemnity provisions; and the offers were “token” settlement offers made in bad faith. The Court of Appeal concurred with this reasoning and reversed: "We recognize the desire by defendants to reach a settlement that protects them from all liability for the conduct alleged in the complaint, whether as to the plaintiffs or their heirs in a wrongful death action. But if defendants seek that protection through indemnification, they may well need to give up the benefit of section 998." View "Khosravan v. Chevron Corp." on Justia Law