Justia Utilities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
Vote Solar v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) arbitrarily and unlawfully reduced solar qualifying facility (QF) standard-offer rates by excluding carbon dioxide emissions costs and NorthWestern Energy's avoided costs of operating its internal combustion engine resource units from the avoided-cost rate, holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court did not err in determining that the PSC did not comply with the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) and Montana's mini-PURPA when it set the standard-offer contract rates and maximum contract lengths for qualifying small (QF-1) solar power producers. The PSC's decision to reduce the standard-offer QF-1 rates was arbitrary and unreasonable because the PSC failed to consider future carbon costs and failed to provide a reasoned decision in departing from its recent precedent. Further, the PSC unreasonably failed to consider NorthWestern's cost of operating its new internal combustion engine resources when setting the avoided-cost rate. View "Vote Solar v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law
MTSUN, LLC v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation
The Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Public Service Commission (PSC) rejecting a proposed development of an eighty-megawatt solar energy facility near Billings, Montana, holding that the PSC violated the requirements of the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) and state law precluding discrimination against solar energy projects.The district court reversed and remanded the PSC's order setting terms and conditions of MTSUN, LLC's proposed eighty megawatt solar project based on findings of violations of due process, PURPA, and Montana's mini-PURPA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that the PSC's determinations were arbitrary and unlawful; and (2) relied on record evidence in determining the existence of a legally-enforceable agreement and the avoided-cost rates. View "MTSUN, LLC v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law
Vote Solar v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court vacating and modifying the orders of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) reducing standard-offer contract rates and maximum contract lengths for small solar qualifying facilities (QFs), holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in determining that the PSC's calculation of the avoided-cost rate was arbitrary and unlawful; and (2) the district court did not err in concluding that the PSC arbitrarily and unreasonably calculated QF capacity contribution values and arbitrarily and unreasonably reduced maximum-length QF-1 contracts to fifteen years. View "Vote Solar v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law
Allied Waste Services of N.A., LLC v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's order enjoining the Montana Department of Public Service Regulation (PSC) from propounding discovery in a dispute between Republic Services of Montana and North Valley Refuse (collectively, Petitioners), removing the PSC from the matter and ordering appointment of an independent hearing examiner to preside over the case, holding that the district court erred in requiring the PSC to appoint an independent hearing examiner.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err by issuing a writ of prohibition barring the PSC from propounding discovery because the standards were satisfied for issuance of a writ of prohibition; but (2) the district court erred by issuing a writ of mandate requiring the PSC to appoint an independent hearing examiner. Because the authority for removal of the entire PSC based upon the independent actions of a staff member were insufficient, and the remedy under the circumstances was overbroad, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Allied Waste Services of N.A., LLC v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law
Wolfe v. Flathead Electric Cooperative, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court granting summary judgment to Flathead Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FEC) alleging a violation of the Rural Electric and Telephone Cooperative Act (RETCA), holding that the district court did not err in determining that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations.Plaintiffs were former members who received electrical services from FEC, a tax-exempt rural electrical cooperative owned by its members and organized under RETCA, but since moved out of FEC’s area. In this action, Plaintiffs alleged that FEC’s practice of allocating capital credits to each member’s capital account but not actually retiring and refunding the capital credits until sometime in the future violated RETCA. The district court granted summary judgment to FEC, ruling in part that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations. View "Wolfe v. Flathead Electric Cooperative, Inc." on Justia Law
Northwestern Corp. v. Dep’t of Pub. Serv. Regulation
This matter involved a challenge to the final order of the Montana Public Service Commission disallowing $1,419,427 in claimed excess electric regulation costs and adjusted energy efficiency savings calculations. NorthWestern Corporation - doing business as NorthWestern Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Human Resources Council, District XI appealed the Commission’s decision. The district court affirmed the Commission’s final order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission used the correct legal standard in reviewing NorthWestern’s claim for excess outage costs; and (2) the “free ridership” and “spillover” calculations adopted by the Commission were supported by substantial evidence. View "Northwestern Corp. v. Dep’t of Pub. Serv. Regulation" on Justia Law
Eldorado Coop Canal Co. v. Hoge
The Water Court is adjudicating the existing water right claims of all appropriators in the Teton River Basin and issued a temporary preliminary decree for Basin 41O. Eldorado, which distributes water to shareholders from the Teton River northwest of Choteau, owns water rights that historically have been administered under the 1908 Perry Decree by a water commissioner (MCA 85-5-101). In 2014, the Water Court addressed objections to Eldorado’s existing water right claims as established under the temporary preliminary decree. The Montana Supreme Court, in Eldorado I, upheld the Water Court’s determinations that Eldorado’s claims required a volume quantification and that Eldorado historically put to beneficial use 15,000 acre-feet of water under its existing rights. The Joint Objectors later informed the water commissioner that Eldorado was approaching the volumetric quantification established by that order and requested that he cap the distribution of Eldorado’s water. Eldorado petitioned the Water Court to stay the volume quantification order pending the Eldorado I appeal. The Water Court denied Eldorado’s request and the commissioner ceased delivering water to Eldorado. Eldorado filed a dissatisfied water user complaint (MCA 85-5-301). The Montana Supreme Court affirmed denial of that complaint. Eldorado participated in every step of the process that resulted in the establishment of its rights under the modified temporary preliminary decree. View "Eldorado Coop Canal Co. v. Hoge" on Justia Law
Colstrip Energy, LP v. Northwestern Corp.
Appellant, a Montana limited partnership which owned an electrical generating plant in Rosebud County, appealed the district court's order denying its motion to vacate the arbitration award ("Final Award") in its dispute with appellee, a Delaware corporation and a regulated public utility conducting business in Montana. At issue was whether the district court abused its discretion when if failed to vacate, modify, or correct the arbitration award. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's motion where Montana's Uniform Arbitration Act, 27-5-311 MCA, did not permit a court to vacate an arbitration award in part; where Montana law was clear that a non-breaching party was still required to prove its damages; where the district court correctly noted in its order confirming the Final Award that the legal precedent on which appellant relied for its request to modify or correct the Final Award applied only to motions to vacate an award; and where the district court correctly determined that it lacked the authority to vacate the Final Award.
Pacificorp v. State of Montana, Dept. of Revenue
The Montana Department of Revenue ("Department") appealed a judgment reversing the State Tax Appeal Board's ("STAB") conclusion that the Department had applied a "commonly accepted" method to assess the value of PacificCorp's Montana properties. At issue was whether substantial evidence demonstrated common acceptance of the Department's direct capitalization method that derived earnings-to-price ratios from an industry-wide analysis. Also at issue was whether substantial evidence supported STAB's conclusion that additional obsolescence did not exist to warrant consideration of further adjustments to PacifiCorp's taxable value. The court held that substantial evidence supported the Department's use of earnings-to-price ratios in its direct capitalization approach; that additional depreciation deductions were not warranted; and that the Department did not overvalue PacifiCorp's property. The court also held that MCA 15-8-111(2)(b) did not require the Department to conduct a separate, additional obsolescence study when no evidence suggested that obsolescence existed that has not been accounted for in the taxpayer's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") Form 1 filing. The court further held that STAB correctly determined that the actual $9.4 billion sales price of PacifiCorp verified that the Department's $7.1 billion assessment had not overvalued PacifiCorp's properties.