Articles Posted in Utilities 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

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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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A Regional Transmission Organization is a voluntary association primarily of utilities that either own electrical transmission lines that comprise a regional electrical grid or generate electricity that is transmitted to the customers in the region. Members of a Regional Transmission Organization and the Illinois Commerce Commission, on behalf of the largest electrical utility in Illinois, (collectively PJM) obtained a remand of an order of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2009. That order allocated costs for certain new high‐voltage network transmission lines that are part of a regional grid that includes the western utilities, but are all located in PJM’s eastern region and primarily benefit that region. Unhappy with the order issued on remand, PJM returned to court. The Seventh Circuit again remanded, acknowledging that the benefits of new facilities to the utilities may be unquantifiable because they depend on the likelihood and magnitude of outages and other contingencies. The order should not shift a grossly disproportionate share of costs to western utilities, given that the projects will confer only future, speculative, and limited benefits to those utilities. View "IL Commerce Comm'n v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Between 1994 and 1999 Commonwealth Edison modified five Illinois coal-fired power plants that had been operating on August 7, 1977, and were, therefore, grandfathered against a permitting requirement applicable to any “major emitting facility” built or substantially modified after that date in parts of the country subject to the rules about prevention of significant deterioration, 42 U.S.C. 7475(a), until the modification. The permit requires installation of “the best available control technology for each pollutant subject to regulation.” Commonwealth Edison did not obtain permits. There was no challenge until 2009, a decade after completion of the modifications. The district court dismissed a challenge as untimely. After finishing the modifications, Commonwealth Edison sold the plants to Midwest. The federal government and Illinois (plaintiffs) argued that the district court allowed corporate restructuring to wipe out liability for ongoing pollution. Midwest and its corporate parent (Edison Mission) filed bankruptcy petitions after the appeal was argued. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Midwest cannot be liable because its predecessor would not have been liable had it owned the plants continuously. Commonwealth Edison needed permits before undertaking the modifications. The court rejected arguments of continuing-violation and continuing-injury. View "United States v. Midwest Generation, LLC" on Justia Law

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The 1987 Public Utilities Act, 220 ILCS 5/8-403.1, was intended to encourage development of power plants that convert solid waste to electricity. Local electric utilities were required to enter into 10-year agreements to purchase power from such plants designated as “qualified” by the Illinois Commerce Commission, at a rate exceeding that established by federal law. The state compensated electric utilities with a tax credit. A qualified facility was obliged to reimburse the state for tax credits its customers had claimed after it had repaid all of its capital costs for development and implementation. Many qualified facilities failed before they repaid their capital costs, so that Illinois never got its tax credit money back. The Act was amended in 2006, to establish a moratorium on new Qualified Facilities, provide additional grounds for disqualifying facilities from the subsidy, and expand the conditions that trigger a facility’s liability to repay electric utilities’ tax credits. The district court held that the amendment cannot be applied retroactively. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The amendment does not clearly indicate that the new repayment conditions apply to monies received prior to the amendment and must be construed prospectively. View "Illinois v. Chiplease, Inc." on Justia Law