Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law

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Until 1997, Illinois residents could only purchase power from a public utility, with rates regulated by the ICC. The Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law allows residents to buy electricity from their local public utility, another utility, or an Alternative Retail Electric Supplier (ARES). The ICC was not given rate-making authority over ARESs, but was given oversight responsibilities. The Law did not explicitly provide a mechanism for recovering damages from an ARES related to rates. Zahn purchased electricity from NAPG, after receiving an offer of a “New Customer Rate” of $.0499 per kilowatt hour in her first month, followed by a “market-based variable rate.” Zahn never received NAPG’s “New Customer Rate.” NAPG charged her $.0599 per kilowatt hour for the first two months, followed by a rate higher than Zahn’s local public utility charged. Zahn filed a class-action complaint, claiming violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. The court dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, or for failure to state a claim. After the Illinois Supreme Court answered a certified question, stating that the ICC does not have exclusive jurisdiction to hear Zahn’s claims, the Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court had jurisdiction and Zahn alleged facts that, if true, could constitute a breach of contract or a deceptive business practice. View "Zahn v. North American Power & Gas, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Duke Energy bought, from Benton, renewable energy at a price high enough to enable construction of wind turbines, and acquired tradeable renewable‑energy credits. The contract requires Duke to pay Benton for all power delivered during the next 20 years. When Benton's 100-megawat facility started operating in 2008 it was the only area wind farm. Duke paid for everything Benton could produce. The regional transmission organization, Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which implements a bidding system for the network, cleared the power to the regional grid. By 2015, aggregate capacity of local wind farms reached 1,745 megawatts, exceeding the local grid’s capacity. At times, would‑be producers must pay MISO to take power; buyers get free electricity. Initially, MISO allowed wind farms to deliver to the grid no matter what other producers (coal, nuclear, solar, hydro) were doing, which meant that such producers had to cut back. On March 1, 2013, the rules changed to put wind farms on a par with other producers. Under MISO’s new system, with Duke’s responsive bid, Benton has gone from delivering power 100% of the time the wind allowed to delivering only 59% of the time. The district court agreed with Duke that, when MISO tells Benton to stop delivering power, it does not owe Benton anything, rejecting Benton’s claim that Duke could put Benton’s power on the grid by bidding to displace other power, and that when Duke does not, it owes liquidated damages. The judge found that bidding $0 is “reasonable” cooperation. The Seventh Circuit reversed; the contract implies that Duke must do what is needed to make transmission capacity available. View "Benton County Wind Farm LLC v. Duke Energy Indiana, Inc." on Justia Law

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After the 2012 enactment of the American Energy Manufacturing Technical Corrections Act, 42 U.S.C. 6313(c)(4)), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published two final rules in 2014, aimed at improving the energy efficiency of commercial refrigeration equipment (CRE). One adopted new energy efficiency standards for CRE, 79 Fed. Reg. 17,726. The second rule, issued a month later, clarified the test procedures that DOE uses to implement those standards, 79 Fed. Reg. 22,278. Trade associations of CRE manufacturers challenged the rules. The Seventh Circuit upheld the rules, rejecting challenges to DOE’s engineering analysis, economic analysis, regulatory flexibility analysis, and assessment of the cumulative regulatory burden. The court concluded that “DOE acted in a manner worthy of deference.” The first rule was premised on an analytical model that is supported by substantial evidence and was not arbitrary. DOE conducted a cost‐ benefit analysis that is within its statutory authority and is supported by substantial evidence. It gave appropriate consideration to the rule’s effect on small businesses and the role of other agency regulations. DOE similarly acted within its authority, and within reason, when it promulgated the Test Procedure Rule. View "Zero Zone, Inc. v. Dep't of Energy" on Justia Law

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MISO, a regional association, monitors and manages the electricity transmission grid in several midwestern and southern states, plus Manitoba, Canada, balancing the load, setting competitive prices for transmission services, and planning and supervising expansion of the system. Until 2011, if MISO decided that another transmission facility was needed in the region, the MISO member that served the area in which the facility would be built had the right of first refusal to build it, pursuant to the contract among the MISO members. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Order No. 1000 required transmission providers to participate in regional transmission planning to identify worthwhile projects, and to allocate the costs of the projects to the parts of the region that would benefit the most from the projects. To facilitate its implementation, the order directed providers “to remove provisions from [FERC] jurisdictional tariffs and agreements that grant incumbent transmission providers a federal right of first refusal to construct transmission facilities selected in a regional transmission plan for purposes of cost allocation.” FERC believed that competition would result in lower rates to consumers of electricity. The Seventh Circuit denied petitions for review of the order. The electric companies did not show that the right of first refusal was in the public interest View "MISO Transmission Owners v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Until 1997, Illinois residents could only purchase power from the local public utility, whose rates were regulated by the Commerce Commission (ICC). The 1997 Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law allows residents to buy electricity from their local public utility, another utility, or an Alternative Retail Electric Supplier (ARES). The ICC was not given rate-making authority over ARESs, but was given certain oversight responsibilities, 220 ILCS 5/16-115. The Law did not explicitly provide a mechanism for recovering damages from an ARES related to the rates. In 2012, Zahn began purchasing electricity from NAPG, after receiving an offer of a “New Customer Rate” of $.0499 per kilowatt hour in her first month of service, followed by a “market-based variable rate.” Zahn never received NAPG’s “New Customer Rate.” NAPG charged her $.0599 per kilowatt hour for the first two months, followed by a rate higher than Zahn’s local public utility charged. Zahn filed a class-action complaint, claiming violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. The court dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, or for failure to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit certified, to the Illinois Supreme Court, the question of whether the ICC has exclusive jurisdiction to hear Zahn’s claims, noting that Illinois appellate courts are in conflict. View "Zahn v. N. Am. Power & Gas, LLC" on Justia Law

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MISO, an organization of independent transmission-owning utilities, has linked the transmission lines of its members into a single interconnected grid across 11 states. The Generators, which operate 150-megawatt wind-powered electric generation facilities in Illinois, wish to connect to the system run by MISO. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), acting under 16 U.S.C. 824(a), has standardized the process: the Generators submitted requests to MISO, which then produced studies (paid for by the Generators) to assess potential impact on the grid and calculate the cost of necessary upgrades. After the studies were complete and agreements signed, MISO notified the Generators of a “significant error” that failed to include certain upgrades and that the Generators would either have to agree to fewer megawatts or pay for additional upgrades estimated to cost $11.5 million. MISO presented superseding Agreements to both Generators. The companies refused to sign. FERC found that the Generators should pay for the additional network upgrades. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. The record failed to show that the Generators relied on the original, mistaken studies or that reducing the output would have made their farms economically unsustainable. They also had an exit option. The court noted that the Generators apparently built their wind farms despite the dispute. View "Pioneer Trail Wind Farm, LLC v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law

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In 2000 the SEC charged First Choice and others with fraud. The district court appointed a receiver to take charge of the defendants’ assets for victims of the $31 million fraud. The receiver found that some assets had been used to acquire oil and gas leases in Texas and Oklahoma and attempted to sell them and use the proceeds to compensate the victims. Over the next 14 years, third parties sought to establish ownership interests in the leases. In this case, CRM sought to contest the receiver’s proposed sale of oil leases in Osage, Oklahoma, which it claims to have operated since 2002. The district court denied CRM’s motion to intervene and approved the sale. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that CRM knew as early as 2004 that the receiver was claiming the leases, but waited until the protracted and expensive receivership was finally moving toward an end and the receiver’s assets were dwindling to take action.View "Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. First Choice Mgmt. Servs., Inc." on Justia Law

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Black Beauty contested a citation issued by an inspector of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, but the ALJ upheld the citation. Black Beauty now petitions for review of the ALJ's order again upholding the citation on remand. The court found substantial evidence to credit the ALJ's conclusion that Black Beauty violated 30 C.F.R. 77.1605(k) by failing to maintain a berm on two tenths of a mile of a bench; there was no reason to disturb the ALJ's conclusion that Black Beauty's violation was significant and substantial; and substantial evidence supported the ALJ's conclusion that Black Beauty's failure to follow the regulation constituted more than ordinary negligence and was thus "unwarrantable." Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Black Beauty Coal Co. v. Secretary of Labor, et al." on Justia Law

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CEnergy filed suit against Glenmore claiming a denial of its right under the Fourteenth Amendment to substantive due process and a violation of the town's state law obligation to deal in good faith. While CEnergy obtained a conditional use permit from Glenmore to develop a wind farm, the company failed to obtain required building permits in time to take advantage of a lucrative opportunity to sell electricity generated by wind turbines to a Wisconsin power company. The court concluded that the town board's decision to delay action on CEnergy's building permit requests could not have been arbitrary in the constitutional sense. Even if the board's treatment of the building permit applications had been arbitrary in the constitutional sense, CEnergy still would have failed to state a substantive due process claim where a plaintiff who ignores potential state law remedies cannot state a substantive due process claim based on a state-created property right. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "CEnergy-Glenmore Wind Farm #1 v. Town of Glenmore" on Justia Law

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In 1952 an Illinois owner granted a pipeline operator an easement for two pipelines across the parcel. The first was built immediately; the second, if built, had to be within 10 feet of the first. The contract says that any pipeline must be “buried to such depth as will not interfere with such cultivation.” In 2012 the operator notified the owner that it planned to build a second pipeline. The owner filed a quiet-title suit, alleging that either the right to build a second line had expired or that another line would violate the farmability condition. The operator replied that 49 U.S.C. 60104(c), preempts enforcement of the farmability condition. The district court dismissed. A second pipeline has been built 50 feet from the first, using eminent domain to obtain the necessary rights, but the owner anticipates construction of a third pipeline. Vacating the judgment, the Seventh Circuit held that no construction is currently planned and the district court acted prematurely. Until details of a third pipeline’ are known, it is not possible to determine what effect it would have on agricultural use. Only if a third pipeline prevents using the land for agriculture would it be necessary (or prudent) to determine whether section 60104(c) establishes a federal right to destroy more of the land’s value than paid for in 1952. The court stated that it had no reason to think that Illinois would call the 1952 contract an option or apply the Rule Against Perpetuities. View "Knight v. Enbridge Pipelines, L.L.C." on Justia Law