Justia Utilities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Utilities Law
Nodak Electric Coop. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al.
Otter Tail Power Company provided electric service to the City of Drayton, North Dakota under a franchise agreement. In August 2019, Drayton annexed to the city property known as McFarland’s Addition. In November 2019, an entity purchased a portion of McFarland’s Addition with the intention of building a truck stop. In April 2020, Drayton passed a resolution requiring Otter Tail to provide electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak Electric Coop provided service to rural customers outside of Drayton, and did not provide services to customers in McFarland’s Addition. Nodak did not have a franchise from Drayton to provide electric service in the city. Nodak filed suit against Otter Tail, requesting the Public Service Commission to prohibit Otter Tail from extending electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak alleged Otter Tail’s service would interfere with Nodak’s existing service and be an unreasonable duplication of services. In response, Otter Tail claimed the PSC lacked jurisdiction over Drayton’s decision on which provider could extend service within the city. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the PSC lacked jurisdiction to rule on Nodak’s complaint, and reversed and vacated the PSC’s order: Otter Tail’s motion to dismiss should have been granted. View "Nodak Electric Coop. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law
In re Establishing the Solar Generation Fund Rider
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the Public Utilities Commission authorizing a recovery mechanism referred to as the solar-generation-fund rider (Rider SGF), holding that remand to the Commission was required as to one issue.In 2021, the Commission issued an order establishing Rider SGF as the recovery mechanism that would be used to provide revenue for a "solar generation fund" by generating funds through a monthly retail charge to customers that would be billed and collected by Ohio electric distribution utilities. The Ohio Manufacturers' Association Energy Group appealed, challenging the amount and structure of Rider SGF. The Supreme Court remanded for clarification on the issue on the whether the Commission erred when it determined that customers must also pay the commercial activity tax through Rider SGF. View "In re Establishing the Solar Generation Fund Rider" on Justia Law
Equitrans, L.P. v. Public Service Comm’n of W. Va.
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (PSC) ordering Equitrans, LC, a natural gas interstate pipeline company, to permit Hope Gas to connect a natural gas field tap on property owned by Ronald and Ashton Hall to Equitrans' "gathering line," holding that the PSC properly exercised jurisdiction in this matter.Seeking to divest itself of its gathering facilities Equitrans applied to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) to abandon and sell its gathering facilities. FERC approved the application. When Equitrans denied Hope Gas's request to reestablish a service connection to the Halls' residence the Halls filed their complaint with the PSC. The PSC found that it had jurisdiction over the gathering facilities. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the PSC properly exercised jurisdiction over the gathering facility at issue. View "Equitrans, L.P. v. Public Service Comm'n of W. Va." on Justia Law
Mason County Public Service District v. Public Service Commission
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the West Virginia Public Service Commission that invalidated a $50 water disconnect fee charged by the Mason County Public Service District as an unreasonable practice, holding that the substantive result of the Commission's order was not improper.While investigating a complaint about residential water service that had been disconnected for nonpayment, staff at the Commission noticed that, when it computed arrearages, the District charged the water disconnect fee in addition to a $50 reconnect fee. Even though the original complaint made no mention of the fee, the Commission invalidated the disconnect fee as unreasonable. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission acted within its authority in investigating and invalidating the disconnect fee; and (2) the substantive result of the Commission's order was consistent with its precedent and rules. View "Mason County Public Service District v. Public Service Commission" on Justia Law
Altic USA, Inc. v. City of Gurdon ex rel. Honorable Kelley
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and dismissed in part the order of the circuit court certifying the City of Gurdon's class-action lawsuit alleging that Suddenlink Communications unlawfully charged Gurdon and other cities in the state three fees for the cities' use of Suddenlink's services, holding that there was no error.Suddenlink, which provided telephone, internet, and cable services to Gurdon, assessed a 911 fee, an Arkansas High-Cost Fund Fee, and a franchise fee. Gurdon brought this action alleging that the imposition of the fees against the City was unlawful. Gurdon then filed a motion for class certification. The circuit court granted the motion. Suddenlink appealed the certification as well as the circuit court's refusal to first address Suddenlink's pending motion to compel arbitration before certifying the class. The Supreme Court dismissed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) the arbitration issue was not appealable on an interlocutory basis; and (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by certifying the class. View "Altic USA, Inc. v. City of Gurdon ex rel. Honorable Kelley" on Justia Law
Adorers of the Blood of Christ United States Province v. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC
The Adorers, an order of nuns whose religious beliefs require them “to protect and preserve Earth,” own property in Pennsylvania. When Transco notified them that it was designing a 42-inch diameter interstate gas pipeline to cross their property, the Adorers explained that they would not sell a right-of-way through their property. Transco sought a certificate of public convenience and necessity. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) published notices and hosted open meetings to discuss the pipeline. The Adorers neither provided comments nor attended meetings. When FERC contacted the Adorers directly, they remained silent. Transco altered the pipeline’s route 132 times in response to public comment. FERC issued the requested certificate, which authorized Transco to use eminent domain to take rights-of-way 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A). Transco sought an order of condemnation to take rights-of-way in the Adorers’ property. The Adorers failed to respond to the complaint.Days after the district court granted Transco default judgment, the Adorers sought an injunction under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1(c). The Third Circuit rejected the Adorers’ contention that RFRA permitted them to assert their claim in federal court rather than before FERC. After the pipeline was put into service, the Adorers sought damages under RFRA. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. To permit a party to reserve a claim, the success of which would imperil a FERC decision to certify an interstate pipeline, by remaining silent during the FERC proceedings and raising the claim in separate litigation would contravene the Natural Gas Act’s exclusive review framework. View "Adorers of the Blood of Christ United States Province v. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC" on Justia Law
REO Enterprises, LLC v. Village of Dorchester
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that the Village of Dorchester was entitled to summary judgment on REO Enterprises, LLC's claims remaining on remand, holding that there was no error.At issue was an ordinance enacted by the Village providing that renters of property could receive utility services from the village only if their landlord guaranteed that the landlord would pay any unpaid utility charges. REO brought this action seeking a declaration that the ordinance was unenforceable. The district court declared that the ordinance violated constitutional equal protection principles, but the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for consideration of REO's other claims. On remand, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Village on the remaining claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the Village. View "REO Enterprises, LLC v. Village of Dorchester" on Justia Law
George E. Warren LLC v. Colonial Pipeline Co
Warren tenders gasoline products to Colonial (a common carrier) for shipment on Colonial’s pipeline from Texas to New Jersey, where Warren has a gasoline-blending operation. The rates and conditions for the transportation services are specified in tariffs approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). The tariff recognizes that the gasoline batches Colonial transports for Warren are fungible and allows Colonial to comingle gasoline from many shippers during transport. Colonial must deliver gasoline of the same volume and grade as the gasoline that was entrusted to it, with the same characteristics that influence the gasoline’s combustion performance (octane rating and distillation value), and its environmental impact, such as volatility. The tariff does not state whether “on specification” gasoline includes any “blend margin.” In 2016, FERC determined that the regulation of in-pipeline blending was outside its jurisdiction. Colonial continued giving Warren gasoline that complies with the relevant tariff but Warren claims that Colonial’s in-line blending of the gasoline with butane diminishes Warren’s ability to blend cheaper blendstocks into the gasoline. Warren regularly blends cheaper gasoline with more expensive gasoline to increase the amount of on-specification gasoline that it can sell,Warren sued for loss of profits (Carmack Amendment 49 U.S.C. 1590), conversion, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the claims. Warren’s request seeks an enlargement of its rights under the FERC-approved tariff and violates the filed-rate doctrine’s nondiscrimination principle. View "George E. Warren LLC v. Colonial Pipeline Co" on Justia Law
Povacz, et al. v. PUC, et al.
In 2008, Act 129 amended the Pennsylvania Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act for the purpose of promoting an energy efficiency and conservation (“EE&C”) program in Pennsylvania. This case centered around a provision in Act 129 that directed electric distribution companies (“EDCs”) in the Commonwealth to “furnish” smart electric technology to their customers. Several electric customers instituted legal action against the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) to prevent the installation of smart meters at their homes. They contended a customer had the ability to opt-out of the installation of smart meters by EDCs. They also claimed that smart meters caused health problems and their installation constituted unsafe or unreasonable service under Section 1501 of the Public Utility Code. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded Act 129 indeed mandated that EDCs furnish smart meters to all electric customers within an electric distribution service area and did not provide electric customers the ability to opt out of having a smart meter installed. An electric customer with concerns about smart meters may seek an accommodation from the PUC or EDC, but to obtain one ,the customer must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that installation of a smart meter violated Section 1501. In this case, the Court held the electric customers did not prove that installation of a smart meter at their premises violated Section 1501; therefore, the PUC was not required to prescribe any remedial action. Having so concluded, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s ruling that Act 129 did not mandate the installation of smart meters. Additionally, the Supreme Court clarified the use of the conclusive causal connection standard for proving a violation under Section 1501 and held that a preponderance of the evidence was the standard that applied to claims brought under Section 1501. View "Povacz, et al. v. PUC, et al." on Justia Law
Duke Energy Florida, LLC v. Clark
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the Florida Public Service Commission denying Duke Energy Florida, LLC's (DEF) request to recover approximately $16 from its customers for costs DEF incurred to meet its customers' demand for electricity, holding that the cost recovery should have been allowed.The costs at issue were incurred when a 420-megawatt (MW) steam-powered generating unit went offline at DEF's Bartow plant and was placed back in service at a derated capacity of 380 MW. After a hearing, an administrative law judge entered a recommended order denying cost recovery. The commission adopted the ALJ's recommendation in the final order on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the factual findings forming the basis for the ALJ's ultimate causation determination were not supported by competent, substantial evidence. View "Duke Energy Florida, LLC v. Clark" on Justia Law