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

Articles Posted in Utilities Law
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The Communications Act of 1934 restricts the rates that telecommunications carriers may charge for transmitting calls across their networks, 47 U.S.C. 201(b). Iowa-based Aureon is a joint venture through which local carriers connect to long-distance carriers such as AT&T and has “subtending” agreements with participating local carriers. AT&T alleged that Aureon imposed interstate and intrastate access charges that violated the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transitional pricing rules; improperly engaged in access stimulation (enticing high call volumes to generate increased access charges); committed an unreasonable practice by agreeing with subtending carriers to connect calls involving access stimulation; and billed for service not covered by its 2013 interstate tariff. The FCC found that Aureon violated the transitional rule.The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The transitional rule applies to all “competitive local exchange carriers,” and Aureon falls into that category but the rule applies to intrastate rates so Aureon’s 2013 increase of its interstate rate was not covered. The court remanded the question of whether Aureon’s subtending agreements qualify as access revenue sharing agreements. The court affirmed the FCC’s determination that Aureon’s interstate tariffs apply to traffic involving any local carriers engaged in access stimulation. The FCC erred in refusing to adjudicate AT&T’s unreasonable-practices claim. View "AT&T Corp. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Virginia power wholesalers who buy electricity from Dominion challenged the Commission's conclusion that Dominion's Virginia customers, but not its North Carolina customers, should bear the costs of undergrounding new transmission wires.The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review and rejected petitioners' claim that the Commission did not properly invoke its power under section 206 of the Federal Power Act; held that petitioners were provided adequate notice of the Commission's intent to modify Dominion's filed rate; and held that the ALJ did not misinterpret a Commission order and thereby improperly cabined the scope of an evidentiary hearing. Finally, the court rejected petitioners' claim that the Commission acted arbitrarily by requiring Dominion's Virginia customers to bear the costs of undergrounding. View "Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, owner of a number of electric generation resources in New England, challenged FERC's adoption of changes to the Transmission, Markets, and Services Tariff proposed by the Independent System Operator for New England (ISO-NE). The DC Circuit held that the parties' dispute may be illusory and thus remanded the record for the agency to sort out what it really means. In this case, at oral argument, counsel for FERC suggested that FERC interpreted the tariff rules in a way that largely squares with Exelon's view of its rights. View "Exelon Corp. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted ANR's petition for review challenging FERC's decision refusing to allow ANR to charge market-based rates, as opposed to cost-based rates, for its natural gas storage services. The court held that FERC acted arbitrarily and capriciously because it did not provide any reasonable justification for allowing DTE affiliates but not ANR to charge market-based rates. Furthermore, FERC's market-power analysis was internally inconsistent. The court also held that ANR's remaining contentions lacked merit. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "ANR Storage Co. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that FERC did not adequately justify its approval of the tariff amendment at issue here, which prohibited cost sharing for a category of high-voltage projects conceded to have significant regional benefits, and which did so only because those projects reflected the planning criteria of individual utilities. The court granted the petitions for review, holding that the Commission acted arbitrarily and capriciously in approving the tariff amendment and applying it to the Elmont-Cunningham and Cunningham-Dooms projects. The court set aside the orders under review to the extent that they approved the amendment and applied it to the two projects, and remand for further proceedings View "Old Dominion Electric Coop. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review challenging FERC's orders approving an exemption to the minimum offer price rule in the ISO New England forward capacity market for a limited amount of qualifying renewable energy. The court held that FERC engaged in reasoned decisionmaking to find that the renewable exemption to the minimum offer price rule resulted in a just and reasonable rate. The court also held that FERC did not abuse its discretion by denying petitioners' request for a hearing and the Commission did not abuse its discretion by relying on the written record to resolve disputes of material fact. View "NextEra Energy Resources, LLC v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged FERC's refund order in a cost-allocation case where the agency found that the rate-distribution methodology was unjust and unreasonable. FERC ordered refunds to customers who paid too much, funded by surcharges on customers who paid too little. The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review and held that the reallocation at issue did not constitute an impermissible retroactive rate increase where FERC reasonably determined that the prior rate methodology was unjust and unreasonable, and its reliance on certain evidence in reaching this conclusion was appropriate. FERC had authority to order refunds and corresponding surcharges under Section 206 of the Federal Power Act and its broad remedial authority under Section 309, because it had established that the existing rate was unjust and unreasonable, and that a different methodology would comply with cost-causation principles. View "Verso Corp. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged FERC's failure to account for the effect on electricity prices of the permanent retirement of the Brayton Point Power Station, a coal-fired electric plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. Petitioners alleged that the closure was an attempt to manipulate the results of forward capacity auction (FCA 8). The DC Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition in the absence of final agency action. In two later proceedings, petitioners asked FERC to correct for what they assert were effects of Brayton Point’s illegal closure on the next two annual forward capacity auctions (FCA 9 and FCA 10). FERC denied the petitions and approved FCA 9 and FCA 10 results.The court held that petitioners lacked standing to challenge FERC's acceptance of the FCA 9 and FCA 10 results because no record evidence established a causal link between the claimed manipulative closure of Brayton Point and the clearing prices of FCA 9 and FCA 10 that FERC approved. View "Utility Workers Union of America Local 464 v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied Duke's petition for review of the Commission's denial of Duke's complaint against PJM under the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 825e. To prepare for a bitterly cold day during the January 2014 polar vortex, Duke purchased expensive natural gas which it ended up not needing. Duke then claimed that PJM, its regional transmission organization, directed it to purchase the gas and that the governing tariff provided for indemnification. The court held that the Commission's finding that PJM never directed Duke to buy gas was supported by substantial evidence on the record. Therefore, the court had no need to address Duke's remaining argument that, had such a directive been issued, the tariff would have authorized indemnification. View "Duke Energy Corp. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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After Old Dominion found that its operational costs during the January 2014 polar vortex outstripped the amounts it could charge for electricity under the governing tariff, it asked the Commission to waive provisions of the governing tariff retroactively so that it could recover its costs. The DC Circuit denied Old Dominion's petition for review of the Commission's denial of Old Dominion's request based on the ground that such retroactive charges would violate the filed rate doctrine and the rule against retroactive ratemaking. In this case, the court afforded the Commission's interpretation of the filed tariff and the PJM Operating Agreement substantial deference where there was no dispute that the PJM Tariff's filed rate did not allow the cost recovery that Old Dominion sought. The court also denied the motion of Independent Market Monitor to intervene, but accorded it amicus curiae status. View "Old Dominion Electric Cooperative v. FERC" on Justia Law