Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

by
Electricity grids are natural monopolies. To prevent utilities such as grid operators from abusing their market power, Congress has given the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the responsibility to ensure that rates and rules under its jurisdiction are “just and reasonable[.]” 16 U.S.C. Section  824d(a).   The Public Service Corporation of Colorado is a grid owner and subsidiary of petitioner Xcel Energy Services, Inc. (collectively, “PS Colorado”).  PS Colorado filed an application with the Commission to change how it processes power plant requests to interconnect—that is, to plug in—to its grid. The Commission denied PS Colorado’s request. It held that the proposal risked unduly preferring the company’s own power plants over would-be entrants to its grid.   The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review. The court held that the Commission reasonably explained its rejection of PS Colorado’s proposal. There was nothing arbitrary or capricious about its decision to bar a vertically integrated grid operator from adopting a rule that could favor its own generators and so cement its dominant market position. The Commission’s holding is consonant with decades of agency policy reflected in orders upheld by the Supreme Court and our court. The Commission also reasonably applied a different rule to a vertically integrated grid operator than it did to independent grid operators because vertically integrated operators have distinct competitive incentives. View "Xcel Energy Services Inc. v FERC" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner, Cherokee, owns a qualifying cogeneration facility in South Carolina. Intervenor, Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC, is a public utility that sells wholesale and retail electric services to customers in North Carolina and South Carolina. Petitioner sells the entirety of its generated capacity and energy to Duke “under a Power Sales Agreement (PPA) pursuant to PURPA.”This case arose because Petitioner sought compensation for the reactive service it provides to Duke’s transmission system. Petitioner filed a proposed rate schedule for its reactive service with FERC pursuant to section 205 of the Federal Power Act. 16 U.S.C. Section 824d.   Duke intervened and claimed that FERC lacked jurisdiction over Petitioner’s section 205 filing. Duke contended that Petitioner’s facility is a qualifying facility selling energy or capacity to Duke pursuant to South Carolina’s implementation of PURPA. Petitioner contended that FERC’s dismissal of its section 205 rate filing is arbitrary and capricious.   The DC Circuit denied the petition for review. The court explained that while it clearly has jurisdiction over the petitions, it lacks authority to consider Petitioner’s arguments because they were not adequately presented in its petition for rehearing. The court wrote that FERC did not devise a new rationale out of the blue, instead, Petitioner made the “energy or capacity” argument in its original Answer to Duke’s motion to dismiss, but then dropped it in its petition for rehearing. Thus, Petitioner did not meet its obligation to show that its filing avoided the cogeneration regulation’s exemption from FERC jurisdiction. As such, the court concluded it does not have authority to consider the Petitioner’s arguments. View "Cherokee County Cogeneration Partners, LLC v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) required Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc.’s (“MISO”) to institute reforms to its interregional planning process and directed MISO to propose a cost allocation method for its share of certain interregional project costs. Since that time, MISO has twice submitted proposals for such cost allocation. Both times, FERC rejected the proposals, finding that they were not just and reasonable as required by the Federal Power Act (the “Act”), because they were inconsistent with the cost causation principle. After the second rejection, FERC, on its own initiative, established a cost allocation method for certain MISO-PJM projects.   Petitioners challenged FERC’s rejection of MISO’s second proposal and FERC’s corresponding implementation of a cost allocation method. The DC Circuit denied the petitions and affirmed FERC’s orders in all respects. The court explained that according to MISO’s own representations to FERC in its filings, the Second Interregional Filing was “designed to work seamlessly with the revisions proposed in the [Second Regional Filing]” and relied on definitions and provisions in the Second Regional Filing As such, it was appropriate and well within FERC’s discretion to reject MISO’s Second Interregional Filing based on its rejection of the Second Regional Filing, as it would obviously suffer from the same critical flaw.   Further, as FERC noted, it made clear that its Third Regional Order was only addressing regional projects, not interregional ones. Thus, because MISO’s SPP Metric would identify regional benefits, disregarding such known benefits in cost allocation is inconsistent with the cost causation principle. Accordingly, FERC reasonably rejected MISO’s Second Interregional Filing. View "Entergy Arkansas, LLC v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) granted NEXUS Gas Transmission, LLC (“Nexus”) a certificate of public convenience and necessity to construct and operate a natural gas pipeline from Ohio to Michigan. After FERC granted Nexus the certificate, the City of Oberlin (“City”) petitioned for review claiming, among other things, that FERC did not adequately justify its reliance on agreements to transport gas ultimately bound for export to Canada as evidence of need for the pipeline.   The DC Circuit denied the petition, explaining that the FERC’s explanation on remand from was reasonable and because its decision comported with the Natural Gas Act and the Takings Clause. The court wrote FERC’s justification for considering the agreements to transport gas bound for export is well reasoned and comports with both the Natural Gas Act and the Takings Clause. FERC’s alternative explanation that it would have granted Nexus a certificate even without considering the export agreements also passes muster. View "City of Oberlin, Ohio v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facility Siting Board (the board or EFSB) concerning the relocation of power lines across the Providence and Seekonk Rivers, holding that Petitioners had standing and that review of the Board's decisions was timely.Petitioners in this case were the City of Providence, Friends of India Point Park, The Hilton Garden Inn, and The R.I. Seafood Festival. Petitioners sought review of a January 17, 2018 order in which the Board stated that the "bridge alignment north" and the "underground alignment" were not feasible but approved the "bridge alignment south." Respondents - EFSB, the City of East Providence, and National Grid - sought review of the order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) all Petitioners except for Hilton lacked standing in this matter; and (2) while the Board's order was deficient, the next preferred alignment was the bridge alignment south, and therefore, the order of the Board is upheld. View "In re Narragansett Electric Co." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court answered certified questions seeking to clarify whether, in payment of royalties under an oil and gas lease, the lessor may be required to bear a portion of the post-production costs incurred in rendering the oil and gas marketable.Specifically, the district court asked whether Estate of Tawyne v. Columbia Natural Resources, LLC, 633 S.E.2d 22 (W. Va. 2006) is still good law in West Virginia and then asked the Supreme Court to expound upon its holding in Tawney. The Supreme Court answered (1) Tawney is still good law; and (2) this Court defines to answer the reformulated question of what level of specificity Tawney requires of an oil and gas lease to permit the deduction of post-production costs from a lessor's royalty payments. View "SWN Production Co., LLC v. Kellam" on Justia Law

by
Crown Energy Company ("Crown") brought suit against Mid-Continent Casualty Company ("Mid-Continent") seeking declaratory judgment that two commercial general liability policies issued to Crown provided coverage for claims of property damage brought against Crown in a separate action. The claims arose out of seismic activity allegedly caused by Crown's use of waste water disposal wells in its oil and gas operations. Mid-Continent filed a counterclaim, seeking declaratory judgment that the claims were not covered under the policies because the seismic activity did not constitute an "occurrence" and that the claims fell within a pollution exclusion to the policies. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Crown. Mid-Continent appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the seismic activity did constitute an occurrence under the policies, and that the pollution exclusion did not bar coverage. The Court of Civil Appeals’ judgment was reversed and the trial court affirmed. View "Crown Energy Co. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co." on Justia Law

by
William Danks appealed a district court judgment affirming the Public Utilities Commission’s (“PUC’s” or “Commission’s”) decision that a gas-gathering system operated by DCP Operating Company, L.P. (“DCP”) did not meet the statutory definition of a public utility and therefore was not subject to the PUC’s jurisdiction. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the PUC regularly pursued its authority in reaching this decision, that the decision was just and reasonable, and that the PUC’s conclusions were in accordance with the evidence. View "Danks v. Colorado Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law