Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Blanca Telephone Company was a rural telecommunications carrier based in Alamosa, Colorado. To be profitable, Blanca must rely in part upon subsidies from the Universal Service Fund (USF), a source of financial support governed by federal law and funded through fees on telephone customers. And in order to receive subsidies from the USF, Blanca must abide by a complex set of rules governing telecommunications carriers. The Federal Communications Commission began an investigation in 2008 into Blanca’s accounting practices, and identified overpayments Blanca had received from the USF between 2005 and 2010. According to the FCC, Blanca improperly claimed roughly $6.75 million in USF support during this period for expenses related to providing mobile cellular services both within and outside Blanca’s designated service area. Blanca was entitled only to support for “plain old telephone service,” namely land lines, and not for mobile telephone services. The FCC issued a demand letter to Blanca seeking repayment. to Blanca seeking repayment. The agency eventually used administrative offsets of payments owed to Blanca for new subsidies to begin collection of the debt. Blanca objected to the FCC’s demand letter and sought agency review of the debt collection determination. During agency proceedings, the FCC considered and rejected Blanca’s objections. Before the Tenth Circuit, Blanca challenged the FCC’s demand letter. And Blanca claimed the FCC's decision should have been set aside because: and subsequent orders on a number of grounds. Blanca claims the FCC’s decision should be set aside because: (1) it was barred by the relevant statute of limitations; (2) it violated due process; and (3) it was arbitrary and capricious. The Tenth Circuit concluded the FCC’s debt collection was not barred by any statute of limitations, Blanca was apprised of the relevant law and afforded adequate opportunity to respond to the FCC’s decision, and the FCC was not arbitrary and capricious in its justifications for the debt collection. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the FCC. View "Blanca Telephone Company v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the City of Concord and dismissing Plaintiffs' claims of illegal fees, holding that the language of a series of local acts unambiguously granted the City of Concord the authority to levy water and wastewater connection fees against Plaintiffs for services to be furnished.In 2004, Concord adopted an ordinance requiring residential subdivision developers to pay fees for water and wastewater service before a subdivision plat would be accepted for recording. In 2016, the ordinance was updated so that the fees were due at the time of acquiring a permit. Plaintiffs, developers who paid water and wastewater connection fees to the City, brought this action seeking a declaratory judgment that the fees were ultra vires because the City could not collect fees prior to furnishing sewer and water services to Plaintiffs' subdivisions. The trial court granted summary judgment for the City. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact with respect to the City's legislative authority to charge fees for services "to be furnished" by the City. View "JVC Enterprises, LLC v. City of Concord" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved, as just and reasonable, cost allocations filed by PJM, the Mid–Atlantic’s regional transmission organization, for a project to improve the reliability of three New Jersey nuclear power plants. The Commission denied a complaint lodged by Delaware and Maryland alleging a large imbalance between the costs imposed on the Delmarva transmission zone and the benefits that zone would accrue from the project. On rehearing in 2018, the Commission reversed course, concluding that application of PJM’s cost–allocation method to the project violated cost–causation principles and was therefore unjust and unreasonable under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 824e. The Commission’s replacement cost–allocation method shifted primary cost responsibility for the project from the Delmarva zone to utilities in New Jersey.The New Jersey Agencies argued that the Commission departed from precedent without adequate explanation, made findings that are unsupported by substantial evidence, and failed to respond meaningfully to objections raised during the proceedings. The D.C. Circuit denied their petitions for review. The Commission reasonably decided to adopt a different cost–allocation method for the type of project at issue here and adequately explained its departure from the cost allocations it had approved in 2016. View "Public Service Electric and Gas Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The companies (Louisville) own and operate electric generation, transmission, and distribution facilities in Kentucky and Virginia; about 20 years ago, they joined MISO, which operates across 15 states (including Kentucky). Customers pay a single rate for access to transmission lines throughout the MISO service territory even if those lines are owned by multiple utilities. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a merger between the companies.The Commission later approved Louisville's withdrawal from MISO, requiring Louisville to provide its wholesale customers protections like those they enjoyed through MISO so that a transmission of energy from a within-MISO generator to the customer’s facilities would incur only one charge. Once Louisville withdrew, its wholesale customers could face two charges (pancaking): one from MISO for the trip from the power plant to the MISO/Louisville border, then another from Louisville for the trip to the final destination. Louisville contracted with its wholesale customers accordingly, including Owensboro’s municipally-owned utility. To secure backup service in case its coal-fired plant suffered outages, Owensboro bought reservations of transmission rights from MISO and another within-MISO generator and asked Louisville to absorb the costs, citing Louisville’s promise to “shield” wholesale customers from pancaking of transmission charges for certain transactions in which they purchased electricity from a within-MISO source for delivery in Louisville’s territory. Louisville refused,Owensboro brought a complaint before the Commission, 16 U.S.C. 825e. The Commission agreed that the contract required Louisville to absorb all the costs. The Sixth Circuit vacated. In "a straightforward case of contract interpretation," the Commission did not address the operative text but treated the matter as an invitation to make complex policy choices. View "Louisville Gas & Electric Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law