Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries
Appeal of Town of Chester et al.
Petitioners, the Towns of Chester and Hudson (collectively, Towns), appealed a Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) order granting respondent Public Service Company of New Hampshire d/b/a Eversource Energy (PSNH) abatements of taxes assessed against its property located in Chester for tax years 2014 and 2016 and in Hudson for tax years 2014, 2015, and 2016. PSNH submitted an appraisal report prepared by its expert, Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., setting forth the expert’s opinion of the aggregate fair market value of PSNH’s taxable property located in each municipality for each tax year. Two appraisers employed by the Towns’ expert, George E. Sansoucy, P.E., LLC (GES), used a substantially similar methodology in appraising the fair market value of the land interests. The BTLA compared the equalized market value to the aggregate assessed value for each municipality for each tax year. The BTLA concluded that an assessment was unreasonable and granted an abatement when it determined that the difference between the equalized market value and the aggregate assessed value was greater than five percent. The Towns argued that because both GES and Concentric relied upon the assessed value of PSNH’s land interests in reaching their opinions of fair market value, the values that the BTLA incorporated into its analysis “were already proportionate” and “should not have had the equalization ratio[s] applied to them.” The BTLA denied the Towns’ motion for reconsideration, noting that it based its calculations upon values that “were supplied by the [Towns] themselves in the stipulations agreed to by them” and adopting the arguments PSNH raised in its objection. Finding no reversible error in the BTLA's order, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Town of Chester et al." on Justia Law
In re Petition of Portland Street Solar LLC
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
In re Petition of TruConnect Communications, Inc.
Petitioner TruConnect Communications, Inc., sought designation from the Vermont Public Utility Commission as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) to provide affordable telecommunications service to qualifying Vermonters under the Federal Lifeline program. The Commission granted TruConnect’s application subject to certain conditions, including a condition that required TruConnect to provide a free cellular handset to its customers. TruConnect appealed, arguing that the condition was imposed on clearly erroneous grounds. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed and reversed and remanded for the Commission to revise its order. View "In re Petition of TruConnect Communications, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Roanoke.
The Utilities Board of the City of Roanoke ("the Utilities Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate an order purporting to reinstate a case that the circuit court had previously disposed of. Because the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to issue the order purporting to reinstate the case, it granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Roanoke." on Justia Law
In re Application of Blue Granite
The South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC) was a quasi-judicial body established by the South Carolina General Assembly, to which the legislature delegated "power and jurisdiction to supervise and regulate the rates and service of every public utility in this State and to fix just and reasonable standards, classifications, regulations, practices, and measurements of service to be furnished, imposed, or observed, and followed by every public utility in this State." Part of this power includes the authority "to create incentives for utilities to improve their business practices." The PSC's order on appeal here was primarily focused on providing incentives to the utility to improve its business practices. Appellant, Blue Granite Water Co. (Blue Granite), was a utility that provided water and sewer services. Blue Granite was formerly known as Carolina Water Service (CWS). CWS changed its name to Blue Granite as part of a rebranding campaign, in part because the utility had earned an unfavorable reputation throughout the state. In rejecting Blue Granite's request for an approximate 50% rate increase, and in an effort to incentivize Blue Granite to improve its business practices, the PSC set a lower return on equity (ROE) than requested and allowed only certain portions of Blue Granite's requested costs, citing to the utility's known, poor reputation and service problems. On appeal, Blue Granite contended the PSC's attempts to incentivize the utility actually unfairly punished the company in violation of law. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part. As to the issues involving the ROE, storm costs, and bond, the Court found the PSC's decision was not unfairly punitive, not arbitrary or capricious, and not clearly erroneous. However, as to the Greenville office expenses, the Court found the PSC's decision to completely deny yearly rental expenses was arbitrary and capricious. The Court therefore remanded this case back to the PSC for additional proceedings. View "In re Application of Blue Granite" on Justia Law
Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo
A reverse validation action was brought by petitioners Bonnie Wolstoncroft, William Unkel, and Michael Wilkes against the County of Yolo (County) to challenge the County’s plan to continue water service to 95 residences within the North Davis Meadows County Service Area (County Service Area) by replacing two aging groundwater wells with the City of Davis’s (City) water supply. Under this plan, North Davis Meadows residents would pay substantially higher water rates to pay for the project. The County considered the increased water rates to be property-related fees and noticed a Proposition 218 (as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 5, 1996)) hearing. More than five months after the County adopted its resolution, but before the deadline contemplated by the parties’ tolling agreement, petitioners filed their action in superior court. The trial court rejected petitioners’ argument that the increased levy constituted an assessment for which majority approval was required by Proposition 218. The trial court also rejected petitioners’ contentions that the County wrongfully rejected protest votes it claimed not to have received or received in an untimely manner. After review of petitioners' arguments on appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly determined that the levy constituted a property-related fee under Proposition 218. "The fact that maintaining adequate water supply requires switching water sources does not turn the fee into an assessment. Thus, the County properly employed the majority protest procedure under article XIII D, section 6." Further, the Court concluded that even if the trial court erred in denying petitioners’ motion to augment the record with declarations regarding two mailed protest votes, petitioners’ evidence would not prove timely compliance with the protest procedure. Without the protest votes for which only evidence of mailing was tendered, the protest lacked a majority. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo" on Justia Law
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
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
Southwest Fair Housing Council, Inc. v. Maricopa Domestic Water Improvement District
Maricopa Domestic Water Improvement District supplies water to about 300 households, including the public housing tenants of a Pinal County complex. Property owners like Pinal County are responsible for paying any past tenant’s delinquent water accounts. Pinal County acknowledged that responsibility but consistently refused to pay, contending it was immune to that policy based on its status as a public municipality. In response, the District imposed a new policy that increased to $180 the refundable security deposit required of new public housing customers before the District would provide water services. New non-public housing customers were subject to a $55 deposit.The Ninth Circuit rejected a challenge to the policy under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3604 and 3617, which bars discriminatory housing policies and practices, including those that cause a disparate impact according to certain protected characteristics or traits—race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. Although the District’s public housing customers are disproportionately African American, Native American, and single mothers, the District established by undisputed evidence that the policy served in a significant way its legitimate business interests; the plaintiffs failed to establish a triable issue of fact that there existed an equally effective, but less discriminatory, alternative. There was insufficient evidence that discriminatory animus was a motivating factor behind the District’s decision to implement its policy. View "Southwest Fair Housing Council, Inc. v. Maricopa Domestic Water Improvement District" on Justia Law
Louisiana Public Service Commission v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
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
McCloskey v. PUC
In consolidated cases, the Commonwealth Court reversed determinations of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”), holding that Section 1301.1(a) required public utilities to revise their DSIC calculations to include income tax deductions and credits to reduce rates charged to consumers. Several public utilities sought to add or adjust DSICs to recover expenses related to repairing, improving, or replacing their distribution system infrastructure, and the Office of Consumer Advocate (“OCA”), through Acting Consumer Advocate Tanya McCloskey, raised challenges to these DSIC computations seeking to add calculations to account for income tax deductions and credits and thereby reduce the rates charged to consumers. The parties disputed whether and, if so, how the addition of Section 1301.1(a) into Subchapter A of Chapter 13 of the Code, requiring inclusion of “income tax deductions and credits” in rate calculations, should apply to the DSIC rate adjustment mechanism of Subchapter B of Chapter 13, 66 Pa.C.S. sections 1350- 1360. Broadly, the PUC and the public utilities argued: (1) ambiguity existed as to whether the General Assembly intended Section 1301.1 to apply to the DSIC mechanism; and, assuming for argument that it did apply; (2) that the Commonwealth Court’s application of Section 1301.1(a) improperly created conflicts with the statutory provisions governing the DSIC calculation; and/or (3) that certain existing DSIC statutory provisions could be read to satisfy the requirements of Section 1301.1(a). Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court differed in its reasoning, it affirmed the outcome of the Commonwealth Court's judgment. View "McCloskey v. PUC" on Justia Law