Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
Energy Express, Inc. v. Department of Public Utilities
In this case concerning the distribution of natural gas to consumers, the Supreme Judicial Court accepted the conclusion of the Department of Public Utilities that only an end consumer, and not a marketer - or a private company - is entitled to a refund under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 164, 94F. Specifically at issue was whether the assignment of pipeline capacity by a local distribution company (LDC) to a marketer caused the marketer to become a customer of the LDC such that it was entitled a share of that refund. Here, a pipeline was ordered by FERC to issue a refund. Because Bay State, an LDC, was the contracting party with the pipeline, Bay State received the full refund. The Department ordered Bay State to issue a refund to its customers, which it did. Energy Express, a marketer, intervened, arguing that it should receive a proportional share of the refund directly. The Department rejected Energy Express’s position. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the Department reasonably interpreted “customer” as used in section 94F to include only those entitles that consume the natural gas provided or transported by Bay State, which interpretation did not include Energy Express; and (2) therefore, Energy Express was not entitled to a refund. View "Energy Express, Inc. v. Department of Public Utilities" on Justia Law
Peterborough Oil Co., LLC v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations require that those deemed to be liable after a spill of hazardous materials within a specified radius of a public water supply undertake cleanup and monitoring to ensure the spill does not pose a danger to that water supply, 310 Code Mass. Regs. 40.0801, 40.0810, 40.0993(3)(a), 40.1030(2)(e). A 2007 modification exempts "oil" from some requirements when specific conditions are met, 310 Code Mass. Regs. 40.0924(2)(b)(3)(a). Peterborough owns a now-vacant Athol property, within a protection area, where it operated a gasoline station for more than 10 years. In 1994, a release of leaded gasoline from a subterranean gasoline storage tank was detected in soil on the site. DEP required Peterborough to undertake supervised cleanup and monitoring activities. In 2008, after the oil exemption was established, Peterborough submitted a revised plan, stating that further remediation was not required because the entirety of the spill fell within the exemption's definition of "oil." DEP responded that the meaning of "oil" in the exemption does not include gasoline additives such as lead, but refers only to petroleum hydrocarbons naturally occurring in oils, so that a spill of leaded gasoline could not be completely excluded from further remediation. The trial court, on summary judgment, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, upheld the DEP interpretation of the regulation as reasonable. View "Peterborough Oil Co., LLC v. Dep't of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law
Posted in: Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
City of Brockton v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd.
In 2009, the Energy Facilities Siting Board approved the petition of Brockton Power Company, LLC to build and operate a combined-cycle energy generating facility powered by natural gas and ultra-low sulfur distillate in the City of Brockton. The City, the Town of West Bridgewater, and a group of residents of the City and Town, all intervenors in the proceedings below, filed appeals of the decision. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the Board, holding (1) the Intervenors’ contention that the Board’s failure to apply unspecified “substantive equal protection” principles to its review of the proposed facility was without merit, as there was no requirement in the 2002 environmental justice policy to do so; (2) the Board did not abuse its discretion by relying on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particulate matter; (3) the Board did not erroneously accept Logan Airport weather data as representative of the proposed facility site; (4) the Board did not abuse its discretion in determining that Brockton Power’s evidence regarding the facility’s impact on the Town’s water supply was accurate and complete; and (5) the Board did not improperly designate delivery routes to and from the facility. View "City of Brockton v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd." on Justia Law
Brockton Power Co. LLC v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd.
In 2009, the Energy Facilities Siting Board approved the petition of Brockton Power Company LLC to build and operate a combined-cycle energy generating facility powered by natural gas and ultra-low sulfur distillate in the City of Brockton. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the Board’s decision. In 2009, while the consolidated appeal was pending, Brockton Power submitted a project change filing (PCF) to the Board seeking approval of three changes to its project. The Board denied one of Brockton Power’s proposed changes but approved the two other project changes. Both Brockton Power and the City appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the Board’s PCF decision in all respects, holding (1) the procedure the Board adopted to review potentially material changes to Brockton Power’s project did not constitute an abuse of its discretion; (2) the Board’s approval of Brockton Power’s proposed use of water from the City’s advanced wastewater reclamation facility for the facility’s cooling tower was not invalid; and (3) the Board did not err by concluding that the CO emissions from a gas-only plant satisfied statutory standards. View "Brockton Power Co. LLC v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd." on Justia Law
NE Energy Partners, LLC v. Mahar Reg’l Sch. Dist.
The Regional School District (Mahar), entered into a price watch agreement with Northeast Energy Partners, a licensed broker of energy services based in Connecticut, pursuant to which Northeast would negotiate and secure contracts for the provision of Mahar's electricity from energy suppliers. Mahar did not enter into the agreement to obtain Northeast's services pursuant to the competitive bidding procedures contained in G.L. c. 30B. When Mahar questioned the validity of the agreement, Northeast sought a declaratory judgment that the agreement is valid and enforceable because, under G.L. c. 30B, 1 (b ) (33), the agreement is exempt from the competitive solicitation and bidding procedures set forth in G.L. c. 30B. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of Northeast, holding that a contract between a school district and an energy broker for procurement of contracts for electricity is exempt from the requirements of G.L. [c.] 30B as a contract for 'energy or energy related services' pursuant to G.L. c. 30B, 1 (b ) (33). View "NE Energy Partners, LLC v. Mahar Reg'l Sch. Dist." on Justia Law
Posted in: Contracts, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Government Contracts, Massachusetts Supreme Court, Utilities Law
NSTAR Electric Co. vs. Dept. of Public Utilities
This case concerned the mechanics of NSTAR's, an electric distribution company, attempt to shift the recovery of one of it supply-related costs, supply-related bad debt costs, from its distribution rates to its supply rates. NSTAR filed a petition, through which it sought to begin recovery of its supply-related bad debt costs through its supply rates rather than, as before, through its distribution rates. Not withstanding that contention, the department conditioned its approval of NSTAR's petition on a corresponding reduction in NSTAR's distribution rates. The court concluded that the department had failed to provide an adequate statement of its reasons for imposing the condition. Specifically, the court was unable to determine whether this aspect of the department's order rested on a determination that NSTAR did not follow the correct procedural path in removing supply-related bad debt costs from its distribution rates, or rather on a determination that NSTAR did not in fact remove such costs from its distribution rates at all. The court concluded further that certain of the department's factual determinations were not adequately supported by subsidiary findings and that an aspect of the department's analysis was legally erroneous. Accordingly, the department's order was to be vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "NSTAR Electric Co. vs. Dept. of Public Utilities" on Justia Law
Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Inc. v. Dept. of Public Utilities & others (No. 1)
This matter came before the court on a reservation and report by a single justice of the court of a decision and final order of the department approving a power purchase agreement (PPA) that National Grid entered into with Cape Wind. The four parties that brought the appeal were all interveners in the department's proceeding. They claim that the PPA violated the commerce clause of the United States Constitution; the department improperly found that the PPA was cost effective and in the public interest; the contract should have been solicited through competitive bidding and subject to a cap on its size; and the department erroneously both approved a method for recovering costs from all distribution customers and required that the contract facilitate financing of a renewable energy generation source. The interveners sought reversal of the department's decision and order, and a remand to the department for further proceedings. The court reviewed the department's decision under G.L.c. 25, section 5, and gave deference to the department's expertise and experience, remanding to the county court where the single justice will affirm the department's decision. View "Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Inc. v. Dept. of Public Utilities & others (No. 1)" on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Government & Administrative Law, Massachusetts Supreme Court
Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Inc. v. Dept. of Public Utilities & others (No. 2)
The court addressed a procedural question that related to Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Inc. v. Dept. of Public Utilities & others (No. 1). At issue was whether the department committed error in denying the third motion filed by the Alliance to reopen the administrative record in the proceeding that the court reviewed in Alliance III. The court applied the more deferential standard of review that generally applied to procedural decisions by agencies on whether to reopen an administrative record and held that the department did not abuse its discretion in declining to reopen a closed record in a completed proceeding in order to accept more information on the same points. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the county court where the decision of the department denying the motion to reopen the record was to be affirmed. View "Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Inc. v. Dept. of Public Utilities & others (No. 2)" on Justia Law
Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light Co. v. Dept. of Public Utilities
Fitchburg appealed from a ruling of the department requiring it to reimburse its customers over $4.6 million in gas supply costs incurred during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 purchasing seasons. The court concluded that the department's determination that Fitchburg's purchasing plans required preapproval was erroneous, as the plans incorporated only traditional risk management techniques that had previously never been subject to the department's preapproval. Penalizing Fitchburg for failing to seek preapproval, when such preapproval was never required, exceeded the department's authority and amounted to an error of law. With respect to the allegedly imprudent purchases, the court agreed with the department that one of the purchases at issue was unreasonable and imprudent, but held that the department's findings of imprudence with regard to the balance of the purchases in 2007 and 2008 were not supported by substantial evidence. View "Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light Co. v. Dept. of Public Utilities" on Justia Law
Bay State Gas Co. v. Dept. of Public Utilities
Five months after the Department of Public Utilities ("department") approved the request of Bay State Gas Company ("Bay State") to sell and transfer all the common stock of its subsidiary Northern Utilities, Inc. ("Northern"), Bay State filed a petition for a general increase in its natural gas distribution rates. The department denied that request while allowing Bay State a general rate increase of $19 million. Bay state appealed the department's decision asserting several points of error. The court affirmed the department's decision and held that the department expressly left open the "appropriate ratemaking treatment" to be afforded the operational cost impacts associated with the sale of Northern. Therefore, it was appropriate to address proper treatment of once-shared functions in light of Bay State's assertions during the section 96 Northern proceeding. The court rejected Bay State's other assertions and remanded to the county court where a judgment was to be entered affirming the decisions and order of the department.