Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Service Commission denying PacifiCorp's application for approval of an agreement between PacifiCorp and Monticello Wind Farm, LLC (MWF) for the purchase of wind energy, holding that the Commission was not obligated to approve the agreement under the circumstances of this case. Under Utah and federal law, PacifiCorp and MWF could set the terms for their agreement in one of two ways by either fixing pricing based on PacifiCorp's avoided costs, which would make the contract one negotiated within the Commission's framework, or negotiating their own pricing terms and contractually limiting the scope of the Commission's review. The Commission reviewed the pricing to ensure consistency with PacifiCorp's avoided costs, but the pricing was based on a methodology the Commission had discontinued. The Commission concluded the pricing could not be deemed consistent with PacifiCorp's avoided costs and denied the application. On appeal, MWF asserted that the parties opted out of the Commission's framework, and therefore, the Commission was obligated to approve the agreement. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that this was an agreement the Commission could reject if it obligated PacifiCorp to purchase energy at a price higher than its avoided costs. View "Monticello Wind Farm, LLC v. Public Service Commission of Utah" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment for plaintiffs in an action brought under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) against Commissioners of the California Public Utilities Commission. In order to regulate terms under which electric utilities purchase power from Qualifying Cogeneration Facilities (QFs), the Commission established the Renewable Market Adjusting Tariff (Re-MAT) program. The panel held that Re-Mat violates PURPA's requirements, because it caps the amount of energy utilities are required to purchase from QFs and because it sets a market-based rate, rather than one based on the utilities' avoided cost. Because California did not offer a PURPA-complaint alternative, the panel held that PURPA preempts Re-Mat. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by fashioning equitable relief when it declined to award plaintiffs preferred remedy of a particular contract. View "Winding Creek Solar, LLC v. Peterman" on Justia Law

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For decades, regulated, vertically-integrated utilities dominated the U.S. electricity market, generating, transmitting, distributing, and collecting payments for electricity. In Illinois that utility was ComEd; its rates are set by the Illinois Commerce Commission. Illinois restructured its electricity market by the Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law of 1997, which allows alternative retail electric suppliers to compete with ComEd, setting their own rates and not regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission. ComEd and alternative suppliers now serve as middlemen, purchasing electricity wholesale from PJM, a regional transmission organization that controls the electric grid covering northern Illinois and several other states, and reselling it to customers. Sevugan contracted with Direct Energy, an alternative supplier, in 2011. In 2013, Sevugan neither re-enrolled nor canceled service, which triggered a “Renewal Clause” with a variable price per kWh. Sevugan sued in 2017, alleging Direct deceived him (and others) with its four-page form contract. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Sevugan’s breach of contract claim, reasoning that Sevugan did not allege facts showing Direct’s rates were not “based on generally prevailing market prices,” or that its “adder,” a discretionary component of the electricity price, was “unreasonable.” View "Sevugan v. Direct Energy Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Daufuskie Island Utility Company, Inc. (DIUC) filed an application with the Public Service Commission for a rate increase for the water and sewer service it provides to residents of Daufuskie Island in Beaufort County. During a hearing on the merits of the application, the commission approved a purported settlement agreement between the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) and three property owners' associations: Haig Point Club and Community Association Inc., Melrose Property Owner's Association, Inc., and Bloody Point Property Owner's Association. DIUC appealed, and the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, finding the agreement "was not a true settlement" because DIUC did not agree to it. The case was thereafter remanded the case to the commission for a new hearing on all issues. On remand, the commission held a second hearing on the merits and issued a second order. DIUC appealed the second order, arguing the commission erred in disallowing certain rate case expenses and refusing to include items of capital in DIUC's rate base. DIUC argued ORS and the commission applied a higher standard of scrutiny on remand in retaliation against DIUC for successfully seeking reversal of the commission's initial order. At oral argument on this second appeal, when pressed by the Court to respond to DIUC's "retaliation" argument, appellate counsel for ORS conceded a heightened standard had been employed. In reversing the Commission, the Supreme Court determined the arbitrary, higher standard of scrutiny affected substantial rights of DIUC. The commission's findings of fact and conclusions of law therefore had to be reversed. The matter was remanded again for a new hearing. View "Daufuskie Island v. SC Office of Regulatory Staff" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, three rural telephone companies, challenged the Commissions' decision establishing petitioners' "cost of capital," which reflects a company's cost of generating or obtaining capital investment in assets that provide utility services to customers. Petitioners alleged that the Commission failed to adequately consider certain risks that exist for investing in small, rural telephone companies, and therefore the cost of capital was set at an unreasonably low level, resulting in a confiscatory rate of return. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding that petitioners failed to meet their burden of demonstrating that the Commission's cost of capital determination was arbitrary, capricious, lacking in any evidentiary support, or that it otherwise fell short of constitutional standards regarding a reasonable rate of return. View "Ponderosa Telephone Co. v. California Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approving two complex, multi-year settlements regarding rates and infrastructure investments under the TDSIC Statute, Ind. Code ch. 8-1-39, holding that Appellant, a party to and proponent of the settlement agreements, was estopped from raising this challenge and that the Commission's order contained sufficient findings. The agreements in this case specified how, in the utility's period petitions to the Commission, rate increases should be calculated and allocated among the utility's various rate classes. Despite being a party to the underlying agreements, Appellant, a group of some of the utility's largest industrial customers, opposed the utility's second periodic petition. Specifically, Appellant argued that the utility's rate calculation and allocation based on the underlying agreements was contrary to the TDSIC Statute. The Commission largely approved the utility's petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant was estopped from challenging the terms of the settlement; and (2) the Commission's conclusion was reasonable and properly supported by specific findings. View "NIPSCO Industrial Group v. Northern Indiana Public Service Co." on Justia Law

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In this case requiring the correct interpretation of the garbage lien statute, Nev. Rev. Stat. 444.520, and the procedures required to perfect and foreclose on a garbage lien the Supreme Court held that the reference to the mechanics' lien statute in Nev. Rev. Stat. 444.520(3) incorporates only the mechanics' lien statute's procedural requirements for foreclosure, as set forth in Nev. Rev. Stat. 108.226 and that no limitations period applies to the foreclosure of a garbage lien. The district court concluded that Appellant, a municipal waste company, did not properly record a garbage lien because it failed to record it within ninety days of the completion of the work. Alternatively, the district court held that Appellant could not foreclose on its liens because a two-year limitations period applied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court erred in applying both the lien perfection requirements set forth in section 108.226 and the two-year statute of limitations set forth in Neb. Rev. Stat. 11.190(4)(b) to the foreclosure of those liens under section 444.520; and (2) a garbage lien is not subject to the statute of limitations, and therefore, Appellant may foreclose upon such a lien at any time so long as it properly perfects the lien under section 444.520(4). View "Waste Management of Nevada, Inc. v. West Taylor Street, LLC" on Justia Law

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After years of investigation, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board), issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO) to San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and several other entities, in connection with a power plant’s operations that discharged waste into the San Diego Bay. The Regional Board found that SDG&E caused or permitted waste to be discharged into the Bay and thereby created, or threatened to create, pollution and nuisance conditions. SDG&E contested its designation as a responsible "person" under Water Code section 13304 (a), and petitioned for a writ of mandate to have the CAO vacated. The superior court denied the writ. SDG&E argued then, as it did before the Court of Appeal, that shipyard companies comparatively discharged greater amounts of pollutants into the Bay and that two appellate opinions required application of the "substantial factor" causation test to determine whether SDG&E created or threatened to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The Court of Appeal found it was undisputed that SDG&E directly discharged and thus "caused or permitted" waste to enter the Bay, distinguishing the aforementioned appellate cases. Further, the Regional Board adequately demonstrated that the waste discharged by SDG&E created, or threatened to create, a condition of pollution or nuisance. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. San Diego Regional Water etc." on Justia Law

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Uber is a “transportation networking company” (TNC) regulated by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC). All TNCs must submit annual reports to the CPUC, containing specified data, and file an annual accessibility plan. After receiving numerous complaints from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency regarding illegal parking, traffic congestion, and safety hazards caused by TNC vehicles, the city attorney opened an investigation into possible violations of state and municipal law by TNCs, including Uber. The city attorney issued the administrative subpoenas to Uber, including a request for: Annual Reports filed by Uber with CPUC, 2013-2017 and all of the raw data supporting those reports on providing accessible vehicles, driver violations/suspensions, number of drivers completing training courses, updates on accessibility plans, report on hours/miles logged by drivers, and providing service by zip code. Uber refused to comply, arguing that the CPUC had primary jurisdiction. The court of appeal affirmed a trial court order that Uber produce the reports. It was within the city attorney’s investigative powers to issue the administrative subpoenas. Public Utilities Code section 1759 did not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction and the primary jurisdiction doctrine did not apply to postpone enforcement of the administrative subpoenas. View "City and County of San Francisco v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, members of three rural power cooperatives, filed suit alleging that the cooperatives failed to refund excess "patronage capital" to their members as required by state law. In this case, the cooperatives argued that Mississippi Code 77-5-235(5)'s refund requirement conflicts with Congress's purposes and objectives as expressed in the Rural Electrification Act, federal regulations, and the cooperatives' loan agreements with the Rural Utility Service. Furthermore, they argued that plaintiff's for request appointment of a trustee or receiver conflicts with federal interests and the provision in their loan agreements that appointment of a receiver constitutes an event of default. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision to remand these consolidated cases to state court, holding that the cooperatives have a colorable federal preemption defense and were entitled to remove under 28 U.S.C. 1442's provision for federal officer removal. View "Butler v. Coast Electric Power Assoc." on Justia Law