Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utilities Law

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Section 205 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824d(a), mandates that all rates and charges demanded, or received by any public utility for the transmission or sale of electric energy subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission shall be just and reasonable. Xcel petitioned for review of three of the Commission's orders denying a retroactive refund for unlawful rates. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that, to the extent the Commission denied Xcel relief because it lacks authority to order refunds from Tri-County, a non-jurisdictional entity, this was not responsive to Xcel’s request. On the merits, the court concluded that the Commission’s reliance on section 2.4(a) of its regulations and related cases to deny Xcel retroactive relief is misplaced. Because the Commission’s reliance on section 2.4(a) of its regulations as applied in its precedent is inapposite, and its position that its section 205 error of law is irremediable beyond prospective relief under section 206 appears irreconcilable with the authority Congress granted it in section 309 to remedy its errors, the court granted the petition in part and remanded the case to the Commission for appropriate action. View "Xcel Energy Servs. Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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On September 16, 2013, the Commission issued an Order Conditionally Accepting Tariff Revisions filed by ISO New England. In the same order, the Commission rejected the tariff proposal to allocate costs to transmission owners as inconsistent with cost-causation principles and directed ISO New England to submit a compliance filing that would allocate the costs of the Program to Real-Time Load Obligation. On April 8, 2014, FERC issued orders denying requests for rehearing of the Orders issued in Docket ER13-1851 and Docket ER13-2266. TransCanada and the Retail Energy Supply Association filed petitions for review challenging the Orders issued by FERC approving the Winter 2013-14 Reliability Program. The court declined to assess FERC’s conditional approval of the Program in Docket ER13-1851 because FERC made it clear that its decision was only tentative. The court concluded that the Commission’s decision regarding the allocation of the costs of the Program to Load-Serving Entities was a final action in Docket ER13-1851 and is ripe for review; the court found no merit in petitioners' challenges to the cost-allocation decision; and therefore, the court denied the petitions for review of the cost-allocation decision in Docket ER13-1851. The court granted in part the petition for review of Docket ER13-2266 because FERC could not properly assess whether the Program’s rates were just and reasonable. View "TransCanada Power Marketing v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Western Minnesota and intervenors petitioned for review of FERC's award of a permit for a hydroelectric project in Polk County, Iowa. The Commission concluded that the municipal preference under Section 7(a) of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 800(a), applies only to municipalities “located in the[] vicinity” of the water resources to be developed. Petitioners claimed that the Commission’s geographic proximity test is an impermissible interpretation of the plain text of the statute. The court agreed that Congress has spoken directly to the question in defining “municipality” in Section 3(7) of the FPA. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, vacated the permit order and rehearing order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Western Minnesota Municipal v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Districts and the Trust petitioned for review of FERC's order determining that the La Grange Hydroelectric Project fell within the mandatory licensing provisions of the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 817(1). Because the Trust has failed to establish standing either for itself or on behalf of its members, the court dismissed its petition for lack of jurisdiction. As to the merits of the Districts' arguments, the court concluded that FERC’s evidence of actual use in the past, together with current use of the Tuolumne River by California DFG crews, constitutes substantial evidence supporting FERC’s finding that La Grange is located on a navigable water of the United States; FERC properly relied on the results of its backwater analysis to conclude that the La Grange reservoir extends onto federal lands; and the Districts' challenges to FERC's finding that the La Grange Project is subject to FERC's mandatory licensing jurisdiction based on Congress's "authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States" are without merit. Accordingly, the court denied the petition, concluding that FERC's jurisdictional determinations were supported by substantial evidence and reached by reasoned decisionmaking. View "Turlock Irrigation Dist. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Citizens of Myersville, in Frederick County, Maryland, oppose the construction of a natural gas facility called a compressor station in their town as part of a larger expansion of natural gas facilities in the northeastern United States proposed by Dominion, a regional natural gas company. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, over the objections of the citizens, conditionally approved it. Dominion fulfilled the Commission’s conditions, including obtaining a Clean Air Act permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment. Dominion built the station, and it has been operating for approximately six months. The D.C. Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting arguments that the Commission lacked substantial evidence to conclude that there was a public need for the project; that the Commission unlawfully interfered with Maryland’s rights under the Clean Air Act; that environmental review of the project, including its consideration of potential alternatives, was inadequate; and that the Commission unlawfully withheld hydraulic flow diagrams from them in violation of their due process rights. View "Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, Inc. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law

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PJM is a regional transmission organization that combines multiple utility power grids into a single transmission system to “reduce technical inefficiencies caused when different utilities operate different portions of the grid independently.” PJM coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia. To prevent interruptions to the delivery of electricity, PJM upgrades its system in accordance with its governing agreements: the Regional Transmission Expansion Plan, the Consolidated Transmission Owners Agreement, and the PJM Open Access Transmission Tariff. The petitioners, incumbent owners, challenged orders in which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) concluded that they had no right of first refusal for proposed expansions or upgrades and that PJM may designate third-party developers to construct transmission facilities within incumbent members’ zones. While their petition was pending, FERC directed PJM to remove or revise “any provision that could be read as supplying a federal right of first refusal for any type of transmission project that is selected in the regional transmission plan for purposes of cost allocation.” The D.C. Circuit dismissed the petition, concluding that there is no live controversy between adverse parties, so that any decision would constitute an impermissible advisory opinion.it View "Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The TMP is a 5.6-mile stretch of pipeline, connecting Missouri with Illinois beneath the Mississippi River. Under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717f, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued MoGas a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a project that included using the TMP for natural gas service for the first time. On remand, the Commission approved inclusion of the acquisition cost in MoGas’s rate base because the TMP had been devoted to a new use, transporting natural gas instead of oil, and the cost of new construction would have been greater. Objectors challenged the Commission’s determination that the company had shown that the acquisition of pipeline facilities provided specific benefits in accordance with Commission precedent. Although acknowledging that a lower acquisition cost can produce benefits to customers in some cases, they argued the Commission failed to examine whether there were actual quantifiable dollar benefits for Missouri customers. The D.C. Circuit affirmed, deferring to the Commission’s benefits exception, which allows an acquisition premium to be included in a pipeline’s rate base when the purchase price is less than the cost of constructing comparable facilities, the facility is converted to a new use, and the transacting parties are unaffiliated. View "Mo. Pub. Serv. Comm'n v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law

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LaPSC sought review of FERC's order denying refunds to certain Louisiana-based utility companies for payments they made pursuant to a cost classification later found to be unjust and unreasonable. In denying LaPSC's refund request, the Commission relied on precedent it characterized as a policy to deny refunds in cost allocation cases, yet the precedent on which it relied is based largely on considerations the Commission did not find applicable. The Commission otherwise relied on the holding company's inability to revisit past decisions, a universally true circumstance. Because the line of precedent on which the Commission relied involved rationales that it concluded were not present in LaPSC's case, and because the existence of the identified equitable factor is unclear and its relevance inadequately explained, the court granted the petition and remanded for the Commission to consider the relevant factors and weigh them against one another. View "Louisiana Public Service Comm'n v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought review of an order issued by FERC directing Midland, an Iowa electric utility, to reconnect to a wind generator within its territory. Because FERC never purported to adopt a general rule on disconnections by utilities whose customers refused to pay their bills, and because prior decisions addressing jurisdiction to review FERC's orders under section 210 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act , 16 U.S.C. 824a-3, have repeatedly emphasized Congress's decision to leave section 210's enforcement to the district court, the court lacked jurisdiction to review the orders. View "Midland Power Cooperative v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Smith Lake filed suit against FERC and others, alleging claims related to the Commission's issuance of a license order. Alabama Power intervened and moved to dismiss the petition for review based on lack of jurisdiction. The court granted the motion because the appeal was untimely, concluding that Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. v. FERC and Clifton Power Corp. v. FERC stand for the proposition that the court will not hear a case if the petitioner has a rehearing petition pending before the Commission at the time of filing in this court, whether it was required or not. Consequently, a party must choose whether to seek an optional petition for rehearing before the Commission, or a petition for review to the court; it cannot proceed simultaneously. View "Smith Lake Improvement v. FERC" on Justia Law