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

Articles Posted in Utilities Law
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LSP, an independent electric transmission developer, bids on proposals to build transmission projects throughout the U.S. LSP sought judicial review of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision under 16 U.S.C. 824e concerning ISO New England’s compliance with Commission Order 1000, which required “the removal from Commission-jurisdictional tariffs and agreements” of rights of first refusal to construct transmission facilities and directed incumbent transmission providers to engage in competitive selection of developers. FERC recognized an exception if the time needed to solicit and conduct competitive bidding would delay the project and thereby threaten system “reliability.” FERC found “insufficient evidence” that ISO was incorrectly implementing Order 1000.The D.C. Circuit denied LSP’s petition for judicial review, first holding that FERC’s ruling bears all the indicia of a substantive decision produced after a contested proceeding involving ISO and numerous intervenors and is subject to judicial review. The court found nothing irrational in FERC’s response to LSP’s general criticism of ISO’s use of more conservative assumptions regarding its system capacity and future management in determining when to apply the exception. Although the number of reliability projects exempted from competitive bidding exceeded those open to competition, the appropriate balance between competitive procurement and quick redress of reliability needs is a policy judgment for FERC. View "LSP Transmission Holdings II, LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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This case stems from a dispute over how to allocate the costs of high-voltage facilities to transmit electricity within the mid-Atlantic planning region. At issue is a contested settlement covering high-voltage projects approved between 2007 and 2013. LIPA and Linden petitioned for judicial review and several transmission owners and state regulatory commissions, as well as PJM, have intervened in support of FERC.The DC Circuit rejected LIPA and Linden's contention that the settlement order and its hybrid allocations are arbitrary. Rather, each formula in the settlement is just and reasonable and is therefore reason enough to uphold it. Furthermore, the court noted that FERC reasonably concluded LIPA and Linden would not have done better through litigation. The court rejected the utilities' contention that the approval was inconsistent with the Seventh Circuit's decisions, with FERC's own precedent, and with an underlying cost-causation principle. The court agreed with Linden that, under the settlement, it need not make any of the payments set forth in the historical formula. Therefore, the court set aside FERC's ruling that Linden must pay Transmission Enhancement Charge adjustments and remanded for further proceedings. The court denied the petitions for review in all the respects. View "Long Island Power Authority v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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For seven years, NTE worked to build a natural gas-fueled power plant in Killingly, Connecticut to sell electricity on the New England grid. NTE worked with ISO, the independent system operator authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to manage the regional grid, to have the project “qualified” to bid for the right to sell electricity. NTE secured a “capacity supply obligation” (CSO) for the 2022 commitment period. NTE secured a guaranteed income stream for the first seven years of the plant’s operation.NTE subsequently encountered setbacks that prevented it from meeting its financing and construction goals. On November 4, 2021, NTE told ISO that it remained confident it could complete construction on time but ISO-NE asked FERC to terminate the Killingly plant’s CSO. In January 2022, FERC did so. In February, the Second Circuit issued an emergency stay of FERC’s order. FERC likely fell short of its obligation under the Administrative Procedure Act to explain its decision. Absent emergency relief, FERC’s order would have irreparably harmed NTE, preventing it from participating in an auction to sell future electricity capacity to New England consumers. Nothing in FERC’s reasoning suggests the risk that incumbents may have to reallocate electricity capacity amongst themselves outweighs the harm of delaying NTE’s project, which could benefit consumers through more efficient, less expensive electricity. View "In re: NTE Connecticut, LLC" on Justia Law

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The owners of New England electric generation facilities are paid through formula rates established by ISO New England’s (a regional transmission organization) open access transmission tariff. The owners challenged Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) orders approving Schedule 17, an amendment to the ISO tariff, establishing a new recovery mechanism for costs incurred by certain electric generation and transmission facilities to comply with mandatory reliability standards FERC had approved.FERC ruled that the owners could use Schedule 17 to recover only costs incurred after they filed and FERC approved a cost-based rate under the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824d. FERC reasoned that recovery was limited to prospective costs, citing the filed rate doctrine, which forbids utilities from charging rates other than those properly filed with FERC, and its corollary, the rule against retroactive rate-making, which prohibits FERC from adjusting current rates to make up for a utility’s over- or under-collection in prior periods.The D.C. Circuit denied the petition for review. FERC’s application of the filed rate doctrine and the rule against retroactive rate-making to Schedule 17 was not arbitrary or capricious. Schedule 17 does not expressly permit recovery of mandatory reliability costs incurred prior to a facility’s individual FPA filing. View "Cogentrix Energy Power Management, LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission owns a power supply system in the Hetch Hetchy Valley and transmission lines but does not own distribution lines and relies on PG&E’s distribution system. The Commission is both a customer and a competitor of PG&E. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved PG&E’s Tariff, which stated the generally applicable terms for “open-access” wholesale distribution service. In 2019, San Francisco filed a complaint under the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824e, 825e, 825h, challenging PG&E’s refusal to offer secondary-voltage service in lieu of more burdensome primary-voltage service to certain San Francisco sites and provide service to delivery points that San Francisco maintains are eligible for service under the Tariff’s grandfathering provision. PG&E maintained that it had not given customers the right to dictate the level of service to be received and that any denials of secondary-voltage service were supported by “technical, safety, reliability, and operational reasons.”FERC denied San Francisco’s complaint, ruling that PG&E should retain discretion to determine what level of service is most appropriate for a customer because the provider “is ultimately responsible for the safety and reliability of its distribution system.” The D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded, citing FERC’s own precedent and noting a “troubling pattern of inattentiveness to potential anticompetitive effects of PG&E’s administration of its open-access Tariff.” View "City and County of San Francisco v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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Duke generates electricity for Power, a “joint agency” of 32 North Carolina municipalities. Power pays Duke an Energy Charge that “reimburses Duke only for its fuel costs and variable operations and maintenance costs associated with producing the energy consumed by Power" and a Capacity Charge, designed to cover Duke’s fixed costs and provide a return on its infrastructure investments, calculated by determining its pro-rata share of the demand on Duke’s system during a one-hour “snapshot” of system usage taken during the peak hour on Duke’s system each month.Their agreement regulates activities Power may employ to modify its electricity use, including Demand-Side Management and Demand Response. Demand-Side Management involves end-users accepting an inducement to sign up for a program where Power can turn off and on their appliances around high-demand periods. Demand Response involves a supplier providing end-users information on the price of energy at a given time and those end users then modifying their consumption to avoid elevated prices.In 2019, Power petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) arguing that the provisions that permit Demand-Side Management and Demand Response activities permit deploying battery storage technology to reduce metered demand during peak load periods and drawing from those batteries during the high-demand “snapshot” hour. Concerned that Power would reduce its Capacity Charge to zero, Duke opposed the petition. The D.C. Circuit affirmed FERC’s grant of Power’s petition, finding that the agreement permits Power to use battery storage technology as either Demand-Side Management or Demand Response. View "Duke Energy Progress, LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted a petition for review of two FERC orders that raised petitioners' electricity rates. The FERC orders validated accounting by Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, LLC (PATH) under its formula rate, allowing it to pass through to ratepayers more than $6 million PATH spent for public relations and advocacy activities. The activities related to PATH's pursuit of Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity (Certificates) to build its proposed electric power transmission line. Petitioners argue that the expenditures instead belong in a designated account which would exclude them from the formula rate. The court concluded that "Expenditures for Certain Civic, Political and Related Activities" include expenditures made for the purpose of indirect as well as direct influence. Accordingly, the court rejected PATH's assertion that account includes expenditures made for the purpose of directly influencing the decisions of public officials, but not the disputed expenditures, which were for indirect influence. View "Newman v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted CPUC's petition for review of the Commission's approval of CAISO's proposal for revising the compensation structure for its Capacity Procurement Mechanism (CPM), a voluntary program designed to provide electric capacity necessary to maintain grid reliability within CAISO's network. Here, as in Delaware Division of Public Advocate v. FERC, 3 F.4th 461 (D.C. Cir. 2021), the Commission failed to grapple with the distinction between bids submitted below or above the soft-offer cap, resulting in the Commission's reliance on precedent without recognition of the substantial differences between the two cases. The court wrote that, apart from the Commission's misplaced reliance on its 2015 CPM Order, the record contains no evidence or findings to support its decision. Accordingly, the court vacated the order and remanded for further proceedings. View "California Public Utilities Commission v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment upholding the Commission's nondisclosure decisions in this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case brought by Niskanen, seeking the names and addresses of property owners along the route of a proposed pipeline. In this case, although the Commission concluded that the property owners' privacy interests outweighed the public interest in this identifying information, and it agreed to a more limited disclosure—the property owners' initials and street names. The court agreed with the district court's finding that the Commission's proposal struck the proper balance between these competing interests. The court explained that Niskanen identifies a weighty public interest in understanding the Commission's compliance with its notice obligations, but it articulates no reason it needs the full names and addresses of landowners along a pipeline route to do so. View "Niskanen Center v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review challenging FERC's two orders regarding a utility company, Entergy Services, and a subset of sales at issue called the Grand Gulf Sales. The Louisiana Commission alleges that FERC's exclusion of the Grand Gulf Sales from the damage calculation was an irrational change of position. The court found no merit in this contention, explaining that the allegations regarding the Grand Gulf Sales do not concern Section 30.03 of the System Agreement because those sales were always treated as Joint Account Sales and therefore never treated as part of Entergy Arkansas's native load.The Louisiana Commission also alleged that the Grand Gulf Sales—despite being accounted for as Joint Account Sales—still violated the System Agreement. The court concluded that FERC reasonably concluded that the two complaints at issue alleged different violations of the System Agreement and therefore that the 2009 Complaint did not preserve the allegations in the 2019 Complaint for purposes of the 2015 Settlement Agreement waiver provisions. In this case, neither Section G(1) or G(2) saves the allegations in the 2019 Complaint from being barred by the 2015 Settlement Agreement. Finally, even if the Louisiana Commission's mutual mistake argument was not waived, FERC reasonably determined on the merits that the Louisiana Commission presented no evidence that any initial shared impression about the Grand Gulf Sales was a material fact that formed the basis of the 2015 Settlement Agreement. View "Louisiana Public Service Commission v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law