Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the lower courts that a natural gas utility company's invoicing practice was "unjust, unreasonable, [or] unfair" under Kan. Stat. Ann. 66-1,206(a), holding that the lower courts reached the correct conclusion.Plaintiffs complained to the Kansas Corporation Commission about Texas-Kansas-Oklahoma Gas, LLC's (TKO) billing practices. The Commission decided that Plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of proving that TKO's rates or practices with regard to them were unreasonable. On review, the district court agreed with Plaintiffs and remanded the case to the Commission to calculate how much TKO overbilled Plaintiffs. The court of appeals agreed that the Commission erred in its analysis of TKO's billing methodology but altered the district court's refund directive and ordered the Commission to decide an appropriate remedy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) TKO's calculating method constituted an unlawful practice; and (2) the case is remanded to the Commission to fashion an appropriate remedy. View "Hanson v. Kansas Corp. Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the Public Utilities Commission requiring Allied Erecting & Dismantling Co., Inc. to pay for electricity consumed during a three-year period in which the Ohio Edison Company failed to bill Allied for one of its electric meters, holding that Allied failed to demonstrate reversible error.Ohio Edison estimated the amount owed based on Allied's historical electricity usage. The Commission determined that Ohio Edison provided sufficient evidence supporting the accuracy of its estimates and that Ohio Edison's estimated back bill was fair and reasonable. Allied appealed, challenging the Commission's orders on two grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Allied failed to demonstrate that the Commission erred in deciding the complaint in Ohio Edison's favor. View "In re Complaint of Allied Erecting & Dismantling Co. v. Ohio Edison Co." on Justia Law

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To connect a California caller to a California recipient, long-distance carriers must purchase access to local exchange services provided by local carriers (switched access services). Long-distance carriers have no control over which local carrier will provide switched access services and “have no choice but to use this service." In its complaint to the Public Utilities Commission, Qwest (a long-distance carrier) alleged that local carriers discriminated against it by providing other long-distance carriers, AT&T and Sprint, with discounted rates for switched access services. Qwest was not charged more than the rates set forth in the local carriers’ tariffs. The Commission concluded Qwest showed that it was similarly situated to AT&T and Sprint and that there was no rational basis for treating Qwest differently with respect to the rates. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting challenges to the Commission failing to conduct an additional evidentiary hearing, finding Qwest was similarly situated to the Contracting Carriers without considering various factors the Commission identified in earlier Decisions; treating differences in the cost of providing service as the only “rational basis” for different rates; concluding Qwest is entitled to refunds; and in determining for the first time during the rehearing that switched access is a monopoly bottleneck service. View "Bullseye Telecom, Inc. v. California Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) did not abuse its discretion in deciding not to reopen a December 2014 order (Order No. 32600) upon allegations raised in 2019 that changed circumstances warranted relief from the order.The order at issue approved a purchase power agreement (PPA) in which Hawaiian Electric Company agreed to purchase wind energy generated by Na Pua Makani on a wind farm to be constructed on the island of O'ahu. Life of the Land (LOL) sought to reopen the order with reference to Hawai'i Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 60(b). The PUC denied LOL's motion for relief, concluding that it was without jurisdiction to consider the motion because LOL had not timely appealed the order under Haw. Rev. Stat. 269-15.5 and, alternatively, that the motion for relief was an untimely motion for rehearing or reconsideration. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the PUC did not abuse its discretion in declining to turn to HRCP Rule 60(b) to reopen Order No. 32600. View "In re Application of Hawaiian Electric Co." on Justia Law

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Under the Natural Gas Act, to build an interstate pipeline, a natural gas company must obtain from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) a certificate of "public convenience and necessity,” 15 U.S.C. 717f(e). A 1947 amendment, section 717f(h), authorized certificate holders to exercise the federal eminent domain power. FERC granted PennEast a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a 116-mile pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. Challenges to that authorization remain pending. PennEast sought to exercise the federal eminent domain power to obtain rights-of-way along the pipeline route, including land in which New Jersey asserts a property interest. New Jersey asserted sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit concluded that PennEast was not authorized to condemn New Jersey’s property.The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that New Jersey’s appeal is not a collateral attack on the FERC order. Section 717f(h) authorizes FERC certificate holders to condemn all necessary rights-of-way, whether owned by private parties or states, and is consistent with established federal government practice for the construction of infrastructure, whether by government or through a private company.States may be sued only in limited circumstances: where the state expressly consents; where Congress clearly abrogates the state’s immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment; or if it has implicitly agreed to suit in “the structure of the original Constitution.” The states implicitly consented to private condemnation suits when they ratified the Constitution, including the eminent domain power, which is inextricably intertwined with condemnation authority. Separating the two would diminish the federal eminent domain power, which the states may not do. View "PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied mandamus relief in this action considering whether an electric utility may compel a plaintiff who alleges a common law personal injury claim to appear before the Public Utility Commission before appearing in court, holding that the Commission may not do so unless the claim complains about the utility's rates or its provision of electrical service.This was a personal injury claim against a utility arising under duties at common law and consumer protection statutes. Plaintiff alleged well-settled elements of a negligence claim, but his allegations did not rely on a utility acting in its regulated capacity, nor on a disruption of or failure to provide electrical service. At issue was whether the action was a regulatory action within the auspices of the Commission. The Supreme Court denied the utility's petition for writ of mandamus asking the trial court to abate the case to require Plaintiff to exhaust his administrative remedies before the Commission, holding that this action was not a regulatory action within the auspices of the Commission. View "In re Oncor Electric Delivery Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of mandamus sought by Texas-New Mexico Power Co. (TNM) in this negligence action, holding that Plaintiffs' claim was not one within the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) exclusive original jurisdiction because it was not about TNM's operations and services as a utility.Plaintiffs, a larger number of homeowners near the Junemann Bayou and Las Marque, sued TNM, their electric utility, for damages due to flooding during Hurricane Harvey, alleging that TNM was negligent in not requiring its contractor to secure wooden mats to the ground during a construction project. The trial court denied TNM's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and TNM petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that the PUC's exclusive original jurisdiction did not extend to the issues underlying this tort claim. View "In re Texas-New Mexico Power Co." on Justia Law

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Spire planned to build a St. Louis-area pipeline and unsuccessfully solicited natural gas “shippers” to enter into preconstruction “precedent agreements.” Spire later entered into a precedent agreement with its affiliate, Spire Missouri, for 87.5 percent of the pipeline’s projected capacity. Spire applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A)), conceding that the proposed pipeline was not needed to serve new load but claiming other benefits. As evidence of need, Spire relied on its precedent agreement with Spire Missouri. FERC released an Environmental Assessment, finding no significant environmental impact. EDF challenged Spire’s application, arguing that the precedent agreement should have limited probative value because the companies were corporate affiliates. The Order approving the new pipeline principally focused on the precedent agreement.The D.C. Circuit vacated the approval. FERC may issue a Certificate only if it finds that construction of a new pipeline “is or will be required by the present or future public convenience and necessity.” Under FERC’s “Certificate Policy Statement,” if there is a need for the pipeline, FERC determines whether there will be adverse impacts on existing customers, existing pipelines, or landowners and communities. If adverse stakeholder impacts will result, FERC balances the public benefits against the adverse effects. FERC’s refusal to address nonfrivolous arguments challenging the probative weight of the affiliated precedent agreement did not evince reasoned and principled decision-making. FERC ignored evidence of self-dealing and failed to thoroughly conduct the interest-balancing inquiry. View "Environmental Defense Fund v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment determining Defendant's method of calculating a supplemental sewerage benefit assessment levied against certain of Plaintiff's real property, holding that the trial court incorrectly determined that Conn. Gen. Stat. 7-249 required Defendant to use the same method to calculate the supplemental assessment as was used to calculate the initial assessment.At issue was whether Defendant had authority to levy a supplemental assessment against Plaintiff's property and, if so, whether it used the correct methodology in calculating that assessment. A predecessor of Defendant levied a sewerage benefit assessment against the owners of the property. Later, the building was demolished and a new commercial office building was constructed in its place. No supplemental assessment was levied as a result of the construction. Plaintiff later purchased the property and converted it into a residential condominium community. Defendant then levied a supplemental assessment on the property. The trial court concluded that Defendant's supplemental assessment calculation violated section 7-249 because it should have been calculated on the basis of street frontage, as was the initial assessment. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Defendant had authority to levy the supplemental assessment; and (2) the trial court erred in determining that Defendant incorrectly calculated the supplemental assessment. View "777 Residential, LLC v. Metropolitan District Commission" on Justia Law