Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing North Star Development, LLC's petition for judicial review of the Montana Public Service Commission's (PSC) August 2020 rate determination regarding North Star's 2019 application for water and sewer utility rate increase authorizations, holding there was no error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court correctly concluded that North Star failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies, as required by Mont. Code Ann. 2-4-702(1)(a); (2) the correct jurisdictional basis for dismissal of a petition for judicial review due to failure to exhaust administrative remedies is a lack of procedural justiciability rather than lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and (3) the district court did not commit reversible error by failing to consider North Star's asserted waiver and equitable estoppel defenses. View "North Star Development, LLC v. Montana Public Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order entered by the district court granting Big Foot Dumpsters & Containers, LLC's motion to dismiss this action as moot following Big Foot's withdrawal of its application for a garbage hauling certificate from the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC), holding that there was no error.Big Foot filed an application for a Class D carrier certificate of public convenience or necessity to haul garbage in Flathead County. Ultimately, Big Foot requested an order allowing the withdrawal of its application and sought dismissal of the action. The district court granted dismissal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err by concluding that the case was mooted; and (2) the district court did not err by failing to apply any exception to the mootness doctrine. View "In re Class D Application of Big Foot" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Yellowstone Disposal, LLC's petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the district court did not err.Yellowstone Disposal filed a petition for writ of mandamus to compel the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to issue a license or, in the alternative, issue a final decision approving or denying its application for a class II solid waste management systems (SWMS) license to operate a SWMS in Richland County. The district court granted DEQ's motion to dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Yellowstone Disposal did not satisfy the requirements for issuance of a writ of mandamus. View "Yellowstone Disposal, LLC v. State, Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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