Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court held that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) lacks the authority to require Otter Tail Power Company to amend an existing transmission cost-recovery rider (TCRR) approved under Minn. Stat. 216B.16, subd. 7b(b) to include the costs and revenues associated with two high-voltage interstate transmission lines, known as the Big Stone Access Transmission Lines (Big Stone Lines). In 2013, the MPUC approved Otter Tail's request for a TCRR for three transmission projects. In 2016, Otter Tail filed this general rate case with the MPUC seeking an annual-rate increase on its retail electricity sales to help offset company-wide investment costs and asserted that the costs and revenues associated with the Big Stone Lines should not be considered when setting the retail rates. The MPUC directed Otter Tail to amend the TCRR approved in 2013 to include the costs and revenues of the Big Stone Lines. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the MPUC does not have statutory authority to compel Otter Tail to include the Big Stone Lines in the TCRR. View "In re Application of Otter Tail Power Company for Authority to Increase Rates for Electric Service in Minnesota" on Justia Law

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Southwest Mississippi Electric Power Association (Southwest) was a nonprofit, member-owned electric cooperative corporation created by statute to provide electricity to rural Mississippians. Plaintiffs Ray Virgil, Barbara Lloyd, and Cassandra Johnson were are members of Southwest who filed a lawsuit alleging Southwest failed to return excess revenues and receipts to its members. Southwest moved to compel arbitration. The trial court granted Southwest’s motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs appealed. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Virgil v. Southwest Mississippi Electric Power Association" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Kansas Corporation Commission approving a non-unanimous settlement agreement including certain rate design changes at issue in this case, holding that the new rate design violates Kansas law. In 2018, two utilities (Utilities) applied to the Commission for a rate increase. The application included a proposed rate increase of $52.6 million per year and changes in the residential rate design. The new rate structure was applicable only to residential distributed generation (DG) customers. Several parties intervened. Most of the parties reached a settlement agreement, but two of the objecting intervenors appealed. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the new rate design violates Kansas law because Kan. Stat. Ann. 66-117d clearly prohibits the Utilities from price discrimination against DG customers. View "In re Joint Application of Westar Energy & Kansas Gas & Electric Co." on Justia Law

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The Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity (ABATE) (Docket Nos. 158305 and 158306) and Energy Michigan, Inc. (Docket Nos. 158307 and 158308) each appealed an order of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) implementing MCL 460.6w. The MPSC order imposed a local clearing requirement on individual alternative electric suppliers. The local clearing requirement represented the amount of capacity resources that were required to be in the local resource zone in which the electric supplier’s demand was served. ABATE and Energy Michigan challenged the MPSC’s interpretation of MCL 460.6w, and Energy Michigan further asserted that the MPSC order improperly imposed new rules that were not promulgated in compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals and reversed the MPSC’s decision, holding that no provision of MCL 460.6w clearly and unmistakably authorized the MPSC to impose a local clearing requirement on individual alternative electric suppliers and that the MPSC could impose a local clearing requirement only exactly as MISO does—on a zonal basis. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals concluded that the MPSC was not permitted to impose a local clearing requirement on any provider individually. Because the Court of Appeals held that MCL 460.6w did not provide the MPSC with the authority to impose a local clearing requirement on individual alternative electric suppliers, the Court of Appeals did not reach the APA argument. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding that despite the identical language describing the MPSC’s authority for determining both elements of its capacity obligation, the Court of Appeals concluded that there was a difference based on its review of the entire statute. The Court surmised that conclusion was unfounded; in fact, a contextual review of the statute supported the opposite conclusion. The Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals misread MCL 460.6w when it read into the statutory text a requirement that the MPSC impose Michigan’s local clearing requirement using the same methodology the Mid-continent Independent System Operator did. The Court of Appeals further misunderstood the differences between the wholesale and retail capacity markets when it held that the MPSC could not impose a local clearing requirement on alternative electric suppliers individually. View "In re Reliability Plans of Electric Utilities for 2017-2021" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the Maine Public Utilities Commission granting Central Maine Power Company's (CMP) petition for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) for the construction and operation of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project, holding that the Commission followed the proper procedure and that there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the Commission's findings. In 2017, CMP filed a petition with the Commission for a CPCN for the NECEC project, a 145-mile transmission line. The Commission voted to grant CMP a CPCN for the construction and operation of the NECEC project. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission did not commit legal error when it decided that CMP was not required to file the results of a third-party investigation into nontransmission alternatives; (2) the Commission did not err in its construction and application of Me. Rev. Stat. 35-A, 3132(6); and (3) the Commission did not abuse its discretion in approving a stipulation between the parties requiring the project to provide myriad benefits to ratepayers and the State as conditions to the recommended Commission approval of the stipulated findings and issuance of the CPCN. View "NextEra Energy Resources, LLC v. Maine Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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Minn-Kota Ag. Products, Inc. appealed a district court order dismissing Minn-Kota’s appeal of findings of fact, conclusions of law and order issued by the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) for lack of standing and affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order denying Minn-Kota’s petition to intervene. In 2017, Minn-Kota began construction of a large, $20 million grain handling facility near the municipalities of Barney and Mooreton, North Dakota. During construction of the facility, Minn-Kota received proposals to provide electric power to the facility from Otter Tail Power Co., an electric public utility, and Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, a rural electric cooperative. Minn-Kota determined Otter Tail would provide cheaper and more reliable electric service and chose Otter Tail as its preferred provider. Dakota Valley protested Otter Tail’s application and requested a hearing. Otter Tail and Dakota Valley were represented at the hearing, and each offered evidence and testimony. Minn- Kota was not a formal party represented at the hearing and, other than the testimony offered by Schuler, Minn-Kota did not contribute to the hearing. In December 2017, the PSC held a work session to contemplate and discuss Otter Tail’s application. The concerns expressed by the PSC at the work session made it clear the PSC was likely going to deny Otter Tail’s application. As a result, Minn-Kota submitted a petition to intervene, which an ALJ determined Minn-Kota submitted after the deadline to intervene had passed, and denied it. Minn-Kota argued it has standing to appeal the PSC’s decision because it participated in the proceedings before the PSC, and the PSC’s decision should be reversed because it was not supported by the facts or law. In the alternative, Minn-Kota argued the case should have been remanded to the PSC and it should have been allowed to intervene and introduce additional evidence into the record. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Minn-Kota had standing, but did not provide a compelling argument on how Otter Tail did not adequately represent its interests at the administrative hearing or throughout the entirety of the proceedings. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and thus affirmed the PSC's order. View "Minn-Kota Ag Products, Inc. v. N.D. Public Service Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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Virginia power wholesalers who buy electricity from Dominion challenged the Commission's conclusion that Dominion's Virginia customers, but not its North Carolina customers, should bear the costs of undergrounding new transmission wires. The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review and rejected petitioners' claim that the Commission did not properly invoke its power under section 206 of the Federal Power Act; held that petitioners were provided adequate notice of the Commission's intent to modify Dominion's filed rate; and held that the ALJ did not misinterpret a Commission order and thereby improperly cabined the scope of an evidentiary hearing. Finally, the court rejected petitioners' claim that the Commission acted arbitrarily by requiring Dominion's Virginia customers to bear the costs of undergrounding. View "Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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FES distributes electricity, buying it from its fossil-fuel and nuclear electricity-generating subsidiaries. FES and a subsidiary filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court enjoined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) from interfering with its plan to reject certain electricity-purchase contracts that FERC had previously approved under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a or the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, 16 U.S.C. 2601, applying the ordinary business-judgment rule and finding that the contracts were financially burdensome to FES. The counterparties were rendered unsecured creditors to the bankruptcy estate. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the bankruptcy court has jurisdiction to decide whether FES may reject the contracts, but held that the injunction was overly broad (beyond its jurisdiction) and that its standard for deciding rejection was too limited. The public necessity of available and functional bankruptcy relief is generally superior to the necessity of FERC’s having complete or exclusive authority to regulate energy contracts and markets. The bankruptcy court exceeded its authority by enjoining FERC from “initiating or continuing any proceeding” or “interfer[ing] with [its] exclusive jurisdiction,” given that it did not have exclusive jurisdiction. On remand, the bankruptcy court must reconsider and decide the impact of the rejection of these contracts on the public interest—including the consequential impact on consumers and any tangential contract provisions concerning such things as decommissioning, environmental management, and future pension obligations—to ensure that the “equities balance in favor of rejecting the contracts.” View "In re: FirstEnergy Solutions Corp." on Justia Law

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Lamont Bair Enterprises, Inc. (“LBE”) was an Idaho corporation based in Idaho Falls that owned residential rental units. One of LBE’s rental units was a four-plex rental property at 547 South Skyline Drive (“the Property”), served by municipal water lines owned and maintained by the City of Idaho Falls (“the City”). On December 28, 2015, a municipal water main broke, causing water to flow beneath the Property’s driveway, crack the concrete basement floor, and flood the basements of all four rental units. The City received an emergency call for assistance in shutting off the water. Believing the incident to be a service line leak (as opposed to a water main break), the City’s response crew first closed the water service line and waited for confirmation that the water flow had stopped. After the crew received notice that water continued to flow into the basement, they isolated the leak to the water main and began repairing the main line. The water was turned back on the following day, and the road and curb were filled back in. None of LBE’s rental units ever experienced flooding from the city’s water lines prior to this flooding incident at the Property. LBE contended the water main “ruptured” due to negligent care (that “the City neglected its water system to the point that literally miles of pipe became past their design life and in need of replacement”) thus failing to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the water supply system. The district court ruled the City was immune from liability under the Idaho Tort Claims Act’s discretionary function exception. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in holding that the City is immune from suit pursuant to the discretionary function exception set forth in Idaho Code section 6-904(1). The Court did not reach the merits of the other issues LBE raised on appeal. View "Lamont Bair Enterprises v. City of Idaho Falls" on Justia Law

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King County, Washington enacted a first-of-its-kind ordinance that required electric, gas, water and sewer utilities to pay for the right to use the county's rights-of-way (franchise). The associated planned charge was called "franchise compensation," and was based on an estimate of a franchise's value. If the county and utility couldn't agree on an amount, the county barred the utility from using its rights-of-way. The issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the County's authority to collect franchise compensation. Secondarily, the issue was whether water-sewer districts or private utilities could use the rights-of-way without a franchise from the County. The superior court ruled King County lacked authority to collect franchise compensation. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that generally, King County could collect franchise compensation. Water-sewer districts and private utilities had no general right to use King County's rights-of-way without a franchise. View "King County v. King County Water Dists." on Justia Law