Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court vacated two orders of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) denying a competitive bidding waiver to Hawai'i Electric Light Company, Inc. (HELCO) and denying Hu Honua's request for reconsideration of the first order, holding that both orders were the result of a misreading of the holding in Matter of Hawai'i Electric Light Co., 445 P.3d 673 (Haw. 2019) (HELCO I).In 2017, the PUC granted HELCO a waiver from competitive bidding for a proposed power purchase agreement HELCO wanted to enter into with Hu Honua (the amended PPA). The 2017 waiver was issued alongside the PUC's approval of the amended PPA. The Supreme Court vacated the decision and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the PUC issued Order No. 37205 denying HELCO's request for a waiver under the belief that HELCO I nullified the 2017 waiver. In order No. 37306, the PUC denied Hu Honua's request for reconsideration. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that HELCO I did not vacate the 2017 waiver and, by extension, did not require the PUC to revisit the threshold waiver issue. View "In re Hawai'i Electric Light Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Iowa Code 357A.2 grants cities the primary right to provide water services within two miles of of the city limits that were not already being served by a rural water district.The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative three questions certified by the federal court in this dispute between an Iowa municipality and a rural water district over the right to provide water service to disputed areas within two miles of the city limits. Specifically, the Court held (1) before amendments in 2014, a section 357A.2 rural district did not have a legal right to provide water service to portions of an area described in its county board of supervisors resolution when those portions were also within two miles of the limits of a municipality and when the municipality had not waived its rights to provide water service to the area; (2) section 357.2(4), as amended in 2014, does not exempt a rural water district from following notice-of-intent procedures when the area the district seeks to serve is within the district's boundaries; and (3) a section 504A nonprofit corporation created in 1977 did not have a legal right to provide water service anywhere within the state. View "Xenia Rural Water District v. City of Johnston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission erred by approving affiliated-interest agreements under Minn. Stat. 216B.48, subdivision 3 without first considering whether environmental review was necessary, holding that the Commission was not required to conduct review under Minn. Stat. Ch. 116D before approving affiliated-interest agreements that govern construction and operation of a Wisconsin power plant by a Minnesota utility.At issue was whether chapter 116D - the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) - requires the Commission to conduct an environmental review before deciding to approve affiliated-interest agreements that will govern the construction and operation of a power plant in a neighboring state. The Commission in this case that its jurisdiction was limited to power plants proposed to be built in Minnesota, and therefore, the power plant in this case was not subject to Minnesota's permitting and environmental review regulations. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that MEPA did not apply. View "In re Minnesota Power's Petition for Approval of the EnergyForward Resource Package" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment in favor of the Empire District Electric Company and Westar Generating, Inc. (collectively, the Utilities) in this petition to quiet title against John Scorse, both individually and as a trustee, and his successors in interest concerning a tract of land in Newton County, holding that the circuit court did not err.After the circuit court entered its judgment, Scorse filed a motion to amend the judgment, arguing that the circuit court misapplied the law by failing to grant his adverse possession claim. The circuit court overruled the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the facts, combined with the facts found by the circuit court in its final judgment after trial, were not such that Scorse was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his claim of adverse possession. View "Empire District Electric Co. v. Scorse" on Justia Law

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The Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) proceeding litigated whether the water supply from natural and imported sources was inadequate to meet the competing annual demands of water producers, thereby creating an overdraft condition. One of the competing parties, Appellant Tapia, individually and as trustee of a trust, claimed that he owned land overlying the aquifer. Settlement discussions ultimately produced an agreement among the vast majority of parties in which they settled their competing groundwater rights claims and agreed to support the contours of a proposed plan designed to bring the Antelope Valley Adjudication Area (AVAA) basin into hydrological balance. Tapia was not among the settling parties. Accordingly, before considering whether to approve the Physical Solution for the AVAA basin, the trial court conducted a separate trial on Tapia's unsettled claims and defenses.The Court of Appeal concluded that the Physical Solution's allocation of the "native safe yield" (NSY) does not violate California's water priorities; the allocations to correlative rights holders accord with California law; the Physical Solution's allocation of the NSY does not violate California's principles promoting the reasonable and beneficial use of water; and substantial evidence supports the judgment as to Tapia, and the Physical Solution is consistent with California law governing water priorities and the constitutional reasonable and beneficial use requirement. View "Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 40 v. Tapia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Data Foundry, Inc., an internet service provider, had standing to bring its claims but affirming the trial court's dismissal of Data Foundry's claims in part on other grounds, holding that the court of appeals erred by affirming portions of the trial court's judgment.The City of Austin sets the rates that Austin Energy, an electric utility owned by the City, charged to Austin residents for retail electric services. Data Foundry, which purchased electricity from Austin Energy, brought this action alleging that the rates charged by the City were illegal. The trial court granted the City's motion to dismiss on the ground that Data Foundry lacked standing because it failed to allege it had suffered a particularized injury. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal on other grounds. The Supreme Court remanded all of Data Foundry's claims to the trial court for further proceedings, holding (1) Data Foundry had standing to bring its claims; (2) the court of appeals correctly reversed the dismissal of some of Data Foundry's claims, including its common-law and constitutional claims; and (3) the court of appeals erred by affirming portions of the trial court's judgment on other grounds. View "Data Foundry, Inc. v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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Over 20 years ago, numerous parties alleged in the Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) that, without a comprehensive adjudication of all competing parties' rights to produce water from and a physical solution for the aquifer, the continuing overdraft of the basin would negatively impact the health of the aquifer. In this case, the trial court was required to find a physical solution that balanced the needs of thousands of existing users, all of whom competed for the scarce water that replenished the aquifer underlying the Antelope Valley Adjudication Area (AVAA), and to craft its provisions to protect the long-term health of the aquifer and the region's residents. The trial court determined that severely reduced water usage was required of existing users, and that severely curtailed access was required for future users. On appeal, the Willis Class challenged the judgment approving the Physical Solution, a proposed plan designed to bring the AVAA basin into hydrological balance.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and concluded that the Physical Solution adequately balanced the competing interests of the parties within the parameters of governing California law and was not inconsistent with the terms of the Settlement. Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion when it equitably apportioned the available groundwater and placed limits and conditions on future pumping. Furthermore, the court rejected Willis's claims that the limits placed on Willis's post-Settlement participation in the litigation amounted to a denial of due process. The court explained that Willis was afforded an adequate notice and opportunity to present its contentions as part of the lengthy process of crafting the final Physical Solution. View "Willis v. Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 40" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court upholding the determination of the Public Utility Commission that Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) met its burden of establishing that its decision to build a power plant was a prudent one and allowing SWEPCO to include the plant's construction costs in its utility rates, holding that the court of appeals erred.In reversing, the court of appeals concluded that the Commission had used an improper standard for assessing SWEPCO's decision to complete construction of the plant and that, because SWEPCO did not produce independent expert testimony, the Commission's decision was without a proper basis. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Commission properly applied its standard in evaluating SWEPCO's decision to complete construction; and (2) substantial evidence supported the Commission's decision. View "Public Utility Commission of Texas v. Texas Industrial Energy Consumers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed these two petitions - one for writ of mandamus and the other for review - arising from a lawsuit that thirteen Panda Power companies (collectively, Panda) filed against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT), holding that this Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the petitions.Panda sued ERCOT and three of its officers for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty. ERCOT filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the Public Utility Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over Panda's claims. The trial court denied the motion. ERCOT appealed and, as an alternative, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, arguing that sovereign immunity barred Panda's claims. The court of appeals (1) dismissed ERCOT's interlocutory appeal for want of jurisdiction, holding that ERCOT was not a governmental unit under the Tort Claims Act; but (2) granted ERCOT's mandamus petition, holding that sovereign immunity applied and barred Panda's claims. The Supreme Court dismissed both the mandamus petition and the petition for review, holding that the trial court's entry of a final judgment rendered this causes arising from the interlocutory order moot. View "In re Panda Power Infrastructure Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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Under section 225.1.4 of the Torrance Municipal Code, consumers of electricity must pay Torrance a tax on the charges for electricity and ancillary services they use. Edison is required to collect this tax from consumers and remit it to Torrance. Torrance filed suit against Edison after it discovered that Edison had calculated the electricity users' tax as a percentage of the net amount Edison was billing its consumers. However, Torrance contends that the electricity tax ordinance does not permit Edison to apply the IA credit to reduce electricity consumers' tax base, thereby reducing Torrance's tax revenue. The trial court sustained Edison's demurrer to Torrance's original complaint without leave to amend and entered a judgment of dismissal.The Court of Appeal agreed with Torrance that the electricity tax ordinance cannot reasonably be construed in the manner proposed by Edison and adopted by the trial court. However, the court agreed with Edison that Torrance cannot recover unpaid taxes from Edison and must instead amend its complaint to include electricity consumers as defendants. In this case, electricity consumers are liable to Torrance with respect to the taxes owed but not collected by Edison in the past. Therefore, the court explained that Torrance should be allowed to amend its complaint to include as defendants the electricity consumers at issue. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "City of Torrance v. Southern California Edison Co." on Justia Law