Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court held that the exemption in Cal. Const. art. II, 9, subd.(a) applies to measures setting municipal water rates, and therefore, municipal water rates and other local utility charges are not subject to referendum. To prevent the referendum process from disrupting essential governmental operations, the California Constitution exempts "statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual current expenses" of the government. See Cal. Const. art. II, 9, subd.(a). After the City of Dunsmuir passed Resolution 2016-02 establishing a five-year plan for a $15 million upgrade to the City's water storage and delivery infrastructure Plaintiff submitted a petition for a referendum seeking to overturn the Resolution. The City declined to place the referendum on the ballot, and Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to compel the City to place the referendum on the ballot. The trial court denied the petition. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the exemption did not apply because the water charges were a "property-related fee" and not a "tax." The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the City's water rates, adopted in the Resolution, fall within the exemption for "tax levies" and therefore are not subject to referendum. View "Wilde v. City of Dunsmuir" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Arizona Corporation Commission may appoint an interim manager to operate a public service corporation (PSC) based on its permissive authority under Ariz. Const. art. XV, 3. Under article 15, section 3, the Commission has permissive authority to make and enforce reasonable orders for the convenience, comfort, safety, and health of the public. Concluding that it was necessary to protect public health and safety, the Commission appointed EPCOR Water Arizona as an interim manager for Johnson Utilities, LLC, an Arizona PSC. Johnson filed a special action seeking to enjoin its enforcement, but the court of appeals denied relief, holding that the Commission has both constitutional and statutory authority to appoint an interim manager of a PSC. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion, holding that the Commission may appoint an interim manager based on its permissive authority under article 15, section 3 of the Arizona Constitution. View "Johnson Utilities, LLC v. Arizona Corp. Commission" on Justia Law

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In an appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the level of deference courts had to afford an administrative agency’s interpretation of its enabling statute. Additionally, the Court considered whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Distributed Antenna System (DAS) networks were public utilities under the Pennsylvania Public Utility Code (Code), thereby reversing the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) interpretation of the definition of “public utility." This case involved the status of DAS networks as public utilities in Pennsylvania. Appellees, Crown Castle NG East LLC (Crown Castle NG) and Pennsylvania-CLEC LLC (Pennsylvania-CLEC) (collectively Crown Castle), operated DAS networks. Crown Castle’s DAS networks provided telecommunications transport services to Wireless Service Providers (WSP), such as AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and others. The WSPs offered "commercial mobile radio service" (CMRS) to retail end-users. The Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court that DAS network operators did not provide CMRS because DAS network operators “own no spectrum, need no phone numbers, and their contractual relationship is solely with the WSPs, not with the retail cell phone user. . . . [T]he DAS network operator has no control over the generation of that signal [that it transports for the WSPs].” Accordingly, the Court concluded that DAS network operators did not furnish CMRS and were not excluded from the definition of public utility by Section 102(2)(iv). Further, the Court concluded the Commonwealth Court did not err in holding that the PUC’s interpretation of a clear and unambiguous statutory provision was not entitled to deference. Further, the Commonwealth Court properly concluded that DAS network service met the definition of “public utility” and is not excluded from that definition as it did not furnish CMRS service. View "Crown Castle NG East LLC, et al v. Pennsylvania Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving an application for a rate increase submitted by Hawai'i Gas (HG) and remanded this case to the PUC for further proceedings, holding that the PUC did not fulfill its statutory obligations under Haw. Rev. Stat. 269-6(b). Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) as "persons aggrieved" who participated in the contested case, Appellants had standing to appeal; (2) PUC failed to carry out its mandate under section 269-6(b); (3) the PUC's limitations in sub-issue No. 1h violated Appellants' due process rights by improperly curtailing Appellants' substantive participation; and (4) the PUC did not abuse its discretion in adjudicating HG's rate case rather than proceeding through rule-making. View "In re Application of The Gas Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the interconnection tax which National Grid (NG) charged Petitioners to interconnect to NG's distribution system then paid to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as contributions in aid of construction, holding that the PUC did not err. In their petition for the issuance of writ of certiorari, Petitioners asked the Supreme Court to declare the PUC order illegal and unreasonable for purportedly failing to follow a specific IRS ruling and for failing to hold NG to its burden of proof. The Supreme Court affirmed the PUC's order, holding (1) NG was entirely reasonable in believing that it continued to owe the interconnection tax to the IRS and in, therefore, passing that tax on to Petitioners; and (2) the PUC order fully comported with a settlement proposal in this case. View "ACP Land, LLC v. Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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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