Articles Posted in Utilities Law

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In 1999, after deregulation of the energy industry in Illinois, Exelon sold its fossil-fuel power plants to use the proceeds on its nuclear plants and infrastructure. The sales yielded $4.8 billion, $2 billion more than expected. Exelon attempted to defer tax liability on the gains by executing “like-kind exchanges,” 26 U.S.C. 1031(a)(1). Exelon identified its Collins Plant, to be sold for $930 million, with $823 of taxable gain, and its Powerton Plant, to be sold for $870 million ($683 million in taxable gain) for exchanges. Exelon identified as investment candidates a Texas coal-fired plant to replace Collins and Georgia coal-fired plants to replace Powerton. In “sale-and-leaseback” transactions, Exelon leased an out-of-state power plant from a tax-exempt entity for a period longer than the plant’s estimated useful life, then immediately leased the plant back to that entity for a shorter sublease term. and provided to the tax-exempt entity a multi-million-dollar accommodation fee with a fully-funded purchase option to terminate Exelon’s residual interest after the sublease. Exelon asserted that it had acquired a genuine ownership interest in the plants, qualifying them as like-kind exchanges. The Commissioner disallowed the benefits claimed by Exelon, characterizing the transactions as a variant of the traditional sale-in-lease-out (SILO) tax shelters, widely invalidated as abusive tax shelters. The tax court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, applying the substance over form doctrine to conclude that the Exelon transactions failed to transfer to Exelon a genuine ownership interest in the out-of-state plants. In substance Exelon’s transactions resemble loans to the tax-exempt entities. View "Exelon Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Regional transmission organizations manage the interstate grid for electricity, conduct auctions through which many large generators of electricity sell most or all of their power, and are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Illinois subsidizes nuclear generation facilities by granting “zero emission credits,” which generators that use coal or gas to produce power must purchase from the recipients at a price set by the state. Electricity producers and municipalities sued, contending that the price‐adjustment aspect of the system is preempted by the Federal Power Act because it impinges on the FERC’s regulatory authority. They acknowledge that a state may levy a tax on carbon emissions; tax the assets and incomes of power producers; tax revenues to subsidize generators; or create a cap‐and‐trade system requiring every firm that emits carbon to buy credits from firms that emit less carbon. They argued that the zero‐emission‐credit system indirectly regulates the auction by using average auction prices as a component in a formula that affects the credits' cost. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Illinois has not engaged in discrimination beyond that required to regulate within its borders. All Illinois carbon‐emitting plants need to buy credits. The subsidy’s recipients are in Illinois. The price effect of the statute is felt wherever the power is used. All power (from inside and outside Illinois) goes for the same price in an interstate auction. The cross‐subsidy among producers may injure investors in carbon‐ releasing plants, but only plants in Illinois. View "Village of Old Mill Creek v. Star" on Justia Law

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Through a Department of Energy grant, Naperville received $11 million to update its grid and began replacing its residential, analog energy meters with digital “smart meters.” Traditional energy meters typically collect monthly energy consumption in a single lump figure once per month. Smart meters often collect thousands of readings every month, showing the amount of electricity being used inside a home and when it is used. This data reveals information about the happenings inside a home because individual appliances have distinct energy-consumption patterns; researchers can predict the appliances that are present in a home and when they are used. While some cities allow residents to decide whether to adopt smart meters, Naperville’s residents cannot opt out of the smart-meter program. Naperville stores the data for up to three years. Concerned citizens sued, alleging that Naperville’s smart meters reveal “intimate personal details and that collection of this data constitutes an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment as an unreasonable search and invasion of privacy under the Illinois Constitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. The data collection constitutes a search but, given the significant government interests in the program and the diminished privacy interests at stake, the search is reasonable. View "Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville" on Justia Law

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In July 2014, Allen‐Gregory filed a putative class action alleging that Fortville violated class members’ due process rights by terminating their water service without a hearing. Fortville revised its procedures, instituting a hearing process effective November 2014. In December 2014, the plaintiffs again sought a preliminary injunction, alleging that the new procedures did not comport with due process. The parties agreed to a settlement. In September 2015, the court approved the settlement and dismissed the case with prejudice. The settlement stated that its purpose was to “fully, finally, and forever resolve, discharge and settle all claims released herein on behalf of the named plaintiffs and the entire class.” It defined the class as “[a]ll customers of the Town of Fortville ... from July 9, 2012 through October 31, 2014 who had their water service terminated and who paid a reconnection fee,” and included an expansive, global release of all claims. Kilburn‐Winnie, a member of the class, received settlement proceeds. In November 2015, Kilburn‐Winnie filed this case alleging that Fortville disconnected her water service again for failure to timely pay her water bill in March and April of 2015 and that the hearing procedures implemented in November 2014 were so complicated and burdensome that they violated her procedural due process rights. The court granted Fortville summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; res judicata barred the claim because the parties settled a prior class action that involved the same claim. View "Kilburn-Winnie v. Town of Fortville" on Justia 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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Cbeyond provides telecommunications service to small businesses using telephone lines. AT&T Illinois provides similar service on a larger scale. Their networks are interconnected; a new entrant (Cbeyond) may connect with existing local exchange carriers, 47 U.S.C. 251; if the parties are unable to agree on terms the issue is referred to arbitration. In 2004, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approved the agreement between Cbeyond and AT&T. In 2012 Cbeyond complained to the ICC: when Cbeyond leases new digital signal level loop circuits, AT&T charges a separate price for “Clear Channel Capability” (CCC) for the loops. CCC codes the electrical pulses in a line to improve data streaming. Cbeyond argued that there was no extra work involved. The Seventh Circuit affirmed rejection of Cbeyond’s claims, noting that the parties’ agreement designates CCC as an “optional feature” available “at an additional cost” and that some of the loops did not have CCC built in. The court noted the lack of information about how AT&T charges others for CCC or whether AT&T’s charges are inconsistent with 47 C.F.R. 51.505, which constrains incumbent carriers to lease network elements to newcomers at a price slightly higher than the incumbent’s marginal cost. Finding no violation of federal law, the court called the claim “a dispute over a price term in a contract,” a matter of state law. “Cbeyond has imposed an excessive and unnecessary burden on the district court by bringing this sloppy lawsuit.” View "Cbeyond Communications, LLC v. Sheahan" on Justia Law

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Pike County's Sny Island Levee Drainage District was organized in 1880 to protect from Mississippi River flooding and runoff. The Kansas City Southern and the Norfolk Southern operate main line railways over the District's flood plain. Illinois law permits the District to assess properties within its territory in order to maintain the levees. A new method, ​adopted in 2009, purported to calculate assessments based on the benefits the District conferred on each property, rather than based on acreage. After the Seventh Circuit enjoined use of the methodology, the District discontinued collecting annual assessments and implemented a one-time additional assessment, 70 ILCS 605/5. The District filed an assessment roll based on new benefit calculations, identifying the tax on KC as $91,084.59 and on Norfolk as $102,976.18, if paid in one installment..The Railroads again filed suit, alleging that the District used a formula that discriminated against them in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act, 49 U.S.C. 11501. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment in favor of the District. The court rejected an argument that the comparison class against which their assessment should be measured is all other District properties, instead of the narrower class of commercial and industrial properties used by the district court. There was no clear error in the court’s assessment of a “battle of the experts.” View "Kansas City S. Ry. v. Sny Island Levee Drainage Dist" 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