Articles Posted in Utilities Law

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The Department of Public Utilities issued an order determining that the plain language of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 164, 94A provides the Department with the statutory authority to review and approve ratepayer-backed, long-term contracts entered into by electric distribution companies for additional natural gas pipeline capacity in the Commonwealth. Plaintiffs filed separate petitions asking that the order be set aside on the ground that it was based on an erroneous interpretation of law. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the Department’s order, holding (1) the order of the Department is a properly promulgated rule or regulation; but (2) the order is invalid in light of the statutory language and purpose of section 94A, as amended by the 1997 Restructuring Act, because it would undermine the main objectives of the Act. View "ENGIE Gas & LNG LLC v. Dep’t of Pub. Utils." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs lost electric power during a major winter ice storm in 2008. Plaintiffs sued Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light Company (FG&E) and sought class certification for themselves and other residential and business customers of FG&E who were injured by FG&E’s allegedly inadequate preparation for and response to the storm. The superior court judge denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the denial of class certification, concluding that the asserted injuries suffered by the class members were too dissimilar. Plaintiffs then filed a renewed motion for class certification premised on an alternate theory of injury. Specifically, Plaintiffs contended that they suffered economic injury by overpaying for a level of emergency preparedness that FG&E deceptively failed to provide. The superior court judge certified two classes of FG&E customers and reported the class certification order. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order certifying the class, holding that, under the circumstances, Plaintiffs’ assertion of overpayment for FG&E’s services did not set forth a cognizable injury under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9(1) and 11 and therefore did not support class certification pursuant to the statute. View "Bellermann v. Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co." on Justia Law

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When a fire caused by NSTAR Electric and Gas Company employees damaged a building owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), two insurers paid the claims of the building’s tenants. The insurers then brought this complaint against NSTAR Electric Company and NSTAR Electric & Gas Company (collectively, NSTAR) seeking to recover for the claims paid. NSTAR moved for partial summary judgment, contending that, to the extent to which the insurers sought recovery for business interruption losses, the claims were barred by Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy Tariff No. 200A, filed with and approved by the Department of Public Utilities, and in effect when the explosion occurred. The tariff contained a limitation of liability clause that limited NSTAR from liability to nonresidential customers for special, indirect, or consequential damages resulting from the utility’s gross negligence. A judge of the superior court allowed NSTAR’s motion for partial summary judgment, concluding that a tariff filed with and approved by a regulatory agency may limit a public utility’s liability. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the limitation of liability clause in the tariff precluded Plaintiffs’ claims to recover for business interruption and other consequential or economic damages. View "Maryland Cas. Co. v. NSTAR Elec. Co." on Justia Law

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The Department of Public Utilities imposed on Petitioners, electric companies, monetary assessments for the Storm Trust Fund (“assessment”) pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 25, 12P, 18, which specifically prohibited Petitioners from seeking recovery of the assessment in any rate proceeding. Petitioners challenged the constitutionality of the recovery prohibition, both as required by the statute and impose by the Department’s order, claiming it was an unconstitutional taking. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the Department’s order, holding (1) the mere obligation to pay the assessment, regardless of whether recovery was permitted or precluded, did not rise to the level of a compensable per se taking; (2) Petitioner’s claim that the assessment constituted a taking by way of a confiscatory rate was inadequate on the facts as presented to the Court; and (3) the Department’s order imposing the assessment and articulating the recovery prohibition did not constitute a regulatory taking because the order simply required Petitioners to pay an assessment that served a legitimate public purpose and did not interfere with Petitioners’ overall property rights.View "Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co. v. Dep’t of Pub. Utils." on Justia Law

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After electrical outages arising from Tropical Storm Irene on August 28, 2011 and a snowstorm two months later, the Department of Public Utilities entered orders against three utility companies - National Grid, NSTAR Electric Company (NSTAR), and Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMEC) - that imposed monetary penalties for the utilities’ failure to restore service to their customers “in a safe and reasonably prompt manner.” The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the Department applied the appropriate reasonableness standard in finding that the utilities violated their duty to restore service in a safe and reasonably prompt manner; (2) the Department’s findings regarding National Grid and WMEC were supported by substantial evidence, but its finding that NSTAR failed timely to respond to priority two and three wires-down calls was not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) with two exceptions, the Department made the necessary findings and did not abuse its discretion in its imposition of monetary penalties. Remanded. View "Mass. Elec. Co. v. Dep’t of Pub. Utils." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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.