Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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The City of Wetumpka sued Alabama Power Company because Alabama Power refused to relocate overhead electrical facilities located within the City's downtown area at the power company's expense. The circuit court dismissed the case, finding that it was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission. To this, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed: the City challenged service regulations of the PSC, and the PSC had exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate such challenges. View "City of Wetumpka v. Alabama Power Company" on Justia Law

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New Energy Economy (NEE) appealed a New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission or PRC) order approving Public Service Company of New Mexico’s (PNM) renewable energy procurement plan (Plan) for the year 2018. In its application, PNM sought to demonstrate its compliance with Renewable Energy Act requirements and obtain the Commission’s approval of renewable energy procurements, among other items. NEE challenged the Commission’s approval of PNM’s 2018 Plan by arguing that PNM’s proposed procurement of solar energy generating facilities relied on an unfair request for proposal (RFP) process. NEE contended PNM designed its RFP to limit the universe of potential bidders and select its predetermined, preferred type of renewable energy bid. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court concluded NEE did not meet its burden of proving that the Commission’s approval of the solar energy procurement was unreasonable or unlawful because evidence in the record supported the Commission’s determination that the challenged provisions of the RFP were reasonable under the facts and circumstances of this case. The Court, therefore, affirmed the Commission's final order approving PNM's 2018 Plan. View "N.M. Indus. Energy Comm'n v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Public Utilities Commission approving the portfolio plans submitted by Ohio Edison Company, the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, and the Toledo Edison Company (collectively, FirstEnergy) but with a modification to include a "cost cap," holding that the Commission lacked authority to impose a cost-recovery cap in this case. In 2016, FirstEnergy submitted an application for approval of their portfolio plans for 2017 through 2019. The commission approved the plans but with a modification to include an annual cap on FirstEnergy's recovery of costs incurred in implementing certain programs not to exceed four percent of its reported 2015 total revenues. FirstEnergy and environmental groups appealed, challenging the cost cap. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further consideration, holding that the Commission acted unlawfully by including that four percent cost cap. View "In re Application of Ohio Edison Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging two policies related to the provision of basic utility services from the City on the ground that the policies have a disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic residents. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that section 3604(b) of the Fair Housing Act is unambiguous and reaches certain post-acquisition conduct, including post-acquisition conduct related to the provision of services. The panel held that a service within the meaning of section 3604(b) must be a housing-related service that is directly connected to the sale or rental of a dwelling, and the water, gas, and electricity services at issue here fall within the scope of section 3604(b). Finally, the court rejected the City's argument that it is not a housing provider subject to section 3604(b), and held that section 3604(b) does not limit its applicability in such a manner and the court's case law has never held that only housing providers are subject to liability thereunder. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Georgia State Conference of the NAACP v. City of LaGrange" on Justia Law

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An industrial park was built in an unincorporated area in Laurens County, South Carolina, between the City of Laurens (Laurens) and the City of Fountain Inn (Fountain Inn). Both municipalities provided natural gas service beyond their respective borders, and each sought to serve the industrial customers in the new industrial park. However, Laurens -through its subsidiary, the Laurens Commission of Public Works (LCPW) - claimed Fountain Inn could not compete for the industrial customers' business because LCPW had established a designated service area and therefore was the sole authorized natural gas provider to the industrial park. Fountain Inn believed the industrial park was not part of a designated service area, and thus LCPW did not have an exclusive right to provide natural gas to customers in the industrial park. In support of its claim, LCPW asserted it had satisfied the requirements of S.C. Code section 5-7-60 (2004) by providing natural gas in the general vicinity for twenty years pursuant to a 1992 boundary line that was informally agreed to by Laurens and Fountain Inn. Agreeing with LCPW that it had properly created a designated service area, the circuit court enjoined Fountain Inn from providing natural gas service to the industrial park, and the court of appeals affirmed. Because there was no reasonable interpretation of section 5-7-60 that would permit LCPW to claim a designated service area over the industrial park, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed. View "Commissioners of Public Works v. City of Fountain Inn" on Justia Law

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Ten small telephone companies sought review of a California Public Utilities Commission (Commission) resolution and decision declining to issue certain funding to Siskiyou Telephone Company (Siskiyou) and Volcano Telephone Company (Volcano). The telephone companies claimed the resolution and decision departed from well-established requirements governing the issuance of funding from the California High Cost Fund A (CHCF-A). Although the Court of Appeal rejected the telephone companies’ assertion that certain adjustments were mandatory, it agreed with them that the Commission’s resolution and decision did not conform to applicable rules. Accordingly, the Court annulled portions of the resolution and decision denying Siskiyou and Volcano’s adjustment requests for 2016 nonrecurring revenue impacts, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Calaveras Telephone Company v. Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717, allows private gas companies to exercise the federal government’s power to take property by eminent domain, if the company has a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); was unable to acquire the property by contract or reach agreement about the amount to be paid; and the value of the property exceeds $3,000. PennEast, scheduled to build a pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, obtained federal approval for the project and filed suit under the NGA to condemn and gain immediate access to properties along the pipeline route, including 42 properties owned, at least in part, by New Jersey or arms of the state. New Jersey sought dismissal, citing the Eleventh Amendment. The district court ruled in favor of PennEast. The Third Circuit vacated. The Eleventh Amendment recognizes that states enjoy sovereign immunity from suits by private parties in federal court. New Jersey has not consented to PennEast’s condemnation suits and its sovereign immunity has not been abrogated by the NGA. The federal government’s power of eminent domain and its power to hale sovereign states into federal court are separate and distinct. In the NGA, Congress has delegated only the power of eminent domain. View "In re: PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC" on Justia Law