Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Utilities Law
In re Petition of the Episcopal Diocese of R.I. for Declaratory Judgment
The Supreme Court dismissed the Episcopal Diocese or Rhode Island's challenge to an order of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that permitted the Narragansett Electric Company to charge the diocese for electricity transmission costs associated with a proposed solar development project on diocese property in Glocester, holding that the matter was moot.On appeal, the diocese argued that the PUC's order was unlawful and unreasonable for several reasons, including the assertion that the PUC subjected the diocese to a biased proceeding in violation of state law. After the Supreme Court remanded the matter to the PUC for consideration of newly discovered evidence Narragansett determined that the diocese was not subject to the challenged interconnection costs. The Supreme Court declined to address the merits of the diocese's appeal, holding that the matter was moot. View "In re Petition of the Episcopal Diocese of R.I. for Declaratory Judgment" on Justia Law
Ind. Office of Utility Consumer Counselor v. Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Co.
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approving Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Company's (Vectren) petition for approval of its new instantaneous netting method determining the amount of credit its customers receive for their excess distributed generation of electricity, holding that there was no error.Acting within its expertise and authority, the Commission approved Vectren's petition seeking approval of a tariff (Rider EDG) rate for the procurement of excess distributed generation. The Commission approved the Rider EDG, finding that the instantaneous netting method was consistent with Ind. Code 8-1-40-5. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Commission properly held that Vectren's instantaneous netting method was not contrary to law and satisfied the requirements in Ind. Code Ann. 8-1-40-5. View "Ind. Office of Utility Consumer Counselor v. Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Co." on Justia Law
Nodak Electric Coop. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al.
Otter Tail Power Company provided electric service to the City of Drayton, North Dakota under a franchise agreement. In August 2019, Drayton annexed to the city property known as McFarland’s Addition. In November 2019, an entity purchased a portion of McFarland’s Addition with the intention of building a truck stop. In April 2020, Drayton passed a resolution requiring Otter Tail to provide electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak Electric Coop provided service to rural customers outside of Drayton, and did not provide services to customers in McFarland’s Addition. Nodak did not have a franchise from Drayton to provide electric service in the city. Nodak filed suit against Otter Tail, requesting the Public Service Commission to prohibit Otter Tail from extending electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak alleged Otter Tail’s service would interfere with Nodak’s existing service and be an unreasonable duplication of services. In response, Otter Tail claimed the PSC lacked jurisdiction over Drayton’s decision on which provider could extend service within the city. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the PSC lacked jurisdiction to rule on Nodak’s complaint, and reversed and vacated the PSC’s order: Otter Tail’s motion to dismiss should have been granted. View "Nodak Electric Coop. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law
Equitrans, L.P. v. Public Service Comm’n of W. Va.
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (PSC) ordering Equitrans, LC, a natural gas interstate pipeline company, to permit Hope Gas to connect a natural gas field tap on property owned by Ronald and Ashton Hall to Equitrans' "gathering line," holding that the PSC properly exercised jurisdiction in this matter.Seeking to divest itself of its gathering facilities Equitrans applied to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) to abandon and sell its gathering facilities. FERC approved the application. When Equitrans denied Hope Gas's request to reestablish a service connection to the Halls' residence the Halls filed their complaint with the PSC. The PSC found that it had jurisdiction over the gathering facilities. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the PSC properly exercised jurisdiction over the gathering facility at issue. View "Equitrans, L.P. v. Public Service Comm'n of W. Va." on Justia Law
George E. Warren LLC v. Colonial Pipeline Co
Warren tenders gasoline products to Colonial (a common carrier) for shipment on Colonial’s pipeline from Texas to New Jersey, where Warren has a gasoline-blending operation. The rates and conditions for the transportation services are specified in tariffs approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). The tariff recognizes that the gasoline batches Colonial transports for Warren are fungible and allows Colonial to comingle gasoline from many shippers during transport. Colonial must deliver gasoline of the same volume and grade as the gasoline that was entrusted to it, with the same characteristics that influence the gasoline’s combustion performance (octane rating and distillation value), and its environmental impact, such as volatility. The tariff does not state whether “on specification” gasoline includes any “blend margin.” In 2016, FERC determined that the regulation of in-pipeline blending was outside its jurisdiction. Colonial continued giving Warren gasoline that complies with the relevant tariff but Warren claims that Colonial’s in-line blending of the gasoline with butane diminishes Warren’s ability to blend cheaper blendstocks into the gasoline. Warren regularly blends cheaper gasoline with more expensive gasoline to increase the amount of on-specification gasoline that it can sell,Warren sued for loss of profits (Carmack Amendment 49 U.S.C. 1590), conversion, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the claims. Warren’s request seeks an enlargement of its rights under the FERC-approved tariff and violates the filed-rate doctrine’s nondiscrimination principle. View "George E. Warren LLC v. Colonial Pipeline Co" on Justia Law
Duke Energy Florida, LLC v. Clark
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the Florida Public Service Commission denying Duke Energy Florida, LLC's (DEF) request to recover approximately $16 from its customers for costs DEF incurred to meet its customers' demand for electricity, holding that the cost recovery should have been allowed.The costs at issue were incurred when a 420-megawatt (MW) steam-powered generating unit went offline at DEF's Bartow plant and was placed back in service at a derated capacity of 380 MW. After a hearing, an administrative law judge entered a recommended order denying cost recovery. The commission adopted the ALJ's recommendation in the final order on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the factual findings forming the basis for the ALJ's ultimate causation determination were not supported by competent, substantial evidence. View "Duke Energy Florida, LLC v. Clark" on Justia Law
State ex rel. Utilities Commission v. Virginia Electric & Power Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the North Carolina Utilities Commission addressing Dominion Energy North Carolina's application for a general increase in its North Carolina retail rates, holding that Dominion's challenges to the Commission's order were unavailing.In the order at issue, the Commission authorized Dominion to calculate its North Carolina retail rates by, inter alia, amortizing certain costs. Dominion appealed, arguing that the Commission acted capriciously and arbitrarily in failing to follow applicable precedent. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission's order was supported by competent, substantial evidence and that the Commission adequately explained the basis for the portions of its decision that Dominion challenged on appeal. View "State ex rel. Utilities Commission v. Virginia Electric & Power Co." on Justia Law
LSP Transmission Holdings II, LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
LSP, an independent electric transmission developer, bids on proposals to build transmission projects throughout the U.S. LSP sought judicial review of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision under 16 U.S.C. 824e concerning ISO New England’s compliance with Commission Order 1000, which required “the removal from Commission-jurisdictional tariffs and agreements” of rights of first refusal to construct transmission facilities and directed incumbent transmission providers to engage in competitive selection of developers. FERC recognized an exception if the time needed to solicit and conduct competitive bidding would delay the project and thereby threaten system “reliability.” FERC found “insufficient evidence” that ISO was incorrectly implementing Order 1000.The D.C. Circuit denied LSP’s petition for judicial review, first holding that FERC’s ruling bears all the indicia of a substantive decision produced after a contested proceeding involving ISO and numerous intervenors and is subject to judicial review. The court found nothing irrational in FERC’s response to LSP’s general criticism of ISO’s use of more conservative assumptions regarding its system capacity and future management in determining when to apply the exception. Although the number of reliability projects exempted from competitive bidding exceeded those open to competition, the appropriate balance between competitive procurement and quick redress of reliability needs is a policy judgment for FERC. View "LSP Transmission Holdings II, LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law
California Public Utilities Commission v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) awarded “incentive adders,” upward adjustments to utilities’ rate of return on equity, to three California-based public utilities. FERC regulations allow for incentive adders to induce voluntary membership in independent system operators. The Ninth Circuit previously concluded that FERC improperly awarded incentive adders to PG&E without considering the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) assertion that PG&E’s membership in the California independent system operator (CAISO) is mandated. The court directed FERC to “inquire into PG&E’s specific circumstances, i.e., whether it could unilaterally leave the C[AISO].” On remand, FERC concluded that membership in CAISO is voluntary.The Ninth Circuit upheld the decision, holding that its previous decision did not resolve whether California law prevented the utilities from leaving CAISO without approval. FERC did not deviate from the mandate on remand. There was no error in FERC’s conclusion that membership in CAISO was voluntary despite a contrary suggestion in a CPUC 1998 Decision. FERC was not required to apply the Erie doctrine and defer to California’s interpretation. The incentive adder and its requirements arose from federal law. The California Supreme Court has not decided whether membership in CAISO is voluntary; no California Code provision mandates CAISO membership, and no case law discusses whether CAISO members must remain such. California courts would not defer to the CPUC’s 1998 Decision because it was inconsistent with the statute. View "California Public Utilities Commission v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law
Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor v. Duke Energy Indiana, LLC
The Supreme Court reversed a portion of the utility regulatory commission's order that approved in part Duke Energy's request to increase its rates for retail consumers, holding that, absent specific statutory authorization, a utility cannot recoup its past costs adjudicated under a prior rate case by treating the costs as a capitalized asset.In 2020, the commission granted Duke's petition for a rate increase in part permitting Duke to recover about $212 million for coal-ash site closures, remediation, and financing costs, with the bulk of the costs having been incurred from 2015 to 2018. At issue was whether the commission could approve reimbursement for a deferred asset without violating the statutory bar against retroactive ratemaking. The Supreme Court answered in the negative, holding that the commission acted without statutory authority in re-adjudicating expenses already governed by a prior rate order. View "Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor v. Duke Energy Indiana, LLC" on Justia Law