On June 2, 2016 the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (“IRRC”) appropriately voted 5-0 to disapprove the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (“PUC”) attempt to modify its regulations implementing the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (“AEPS”) Act, 73 P.S. §§1648.1, et seq. The IRRC’s rejection was based primarily on its view that the PUC’s proposed regulations would exceed its statutory authority by limiting net-metering of electricity to entities with alternative energy systems sized to generate no more than 200% of their annual consumption. The IRRC went on to state that if the PUC decides to proceed with the rulemaking by deleting this limit, it “should ensure that other provisions of the regulation do not limit a customer-generator’s ability to net-meter excess generation it produces.” The IRRC also found that the PUC had failed to show any need for the modifications and suggested that because the PUC’s proposal appeared to be a change in policy of such a substantial nature consultation with the General Assembly was warranted.
HMS Legal Blog
Tuesday night, the U.S. Senate passed the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act (PIPES Act). This bill is now headed to President Obama to be signed into law. In addition to reauthorizing the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through FY2019, this soon-to-be law enacts substantive changes in the pipeline industry’s regulatory landscape.
Uber Week for Uber in PA - Commonwealth Court Affirms PUC’s Authorization of Raiser’s Service (an Uber Subsidiary) and PUC Decreases Recommended $49 Mil Civil Penalty to $11 Mil
In an April 19, 2016 Opinion, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) grant of a certificate of public convenience (CPC) for experimental authority to operate as a common carrier to Raiser-PA, LLC (Raiser) in Pennsylvania, excluding Philadelphia. Raiser is a subsidiary of Uber Technologies, Inc. (Uber), which licenses the technology to Raiser that allows users to request a ride via smartphone app.
On March 17, 2016 Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released a 549 page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that significantly changes regulations for transmission lines and imposes regulations on previously unregulated gathering lines carrying, inter alia, natural gas and petroleum products.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) recently issued a final rule making order concerning recovery of fuel costs by gas utilities at Docket No. L-2013-2346923. The full order can be found here: http://www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol46/46-4/110.html The Order is designed to simplify and streamline information and procedures for small gas utilities (gross intrastate operating revenues of $40 million or less) when submitting gas cost rate (GCR) filings with the PUC.
On February 18, 2016, EPA Announced its Triennial National Enforcement Initiatives (“Initiatives”). The EPA issues these Initiatives once every three years in order to help “focus time and resources on national pollution problems” according to Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA. The latest round of Initiatives will begin on October 1, 2016 and once again will list natural gas producers and water authorities as targets for EPA inspections and enforcement.
U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on line between FERC and States when it comes to demand response programs.
Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court in a majority decision reversed the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision and determined that a regional transmission organization’s (RTO) demand response program compensation comes under FERC’s jurisdiction. A demand response program is when, during high electricity demand, customers of electricity are paid not to use electricity. These demand response programs serve to lower electricity prices and increase the reliability of the electric grid. Center to the present issue is FERC’s issuance of Order No. 745 (Order 745). Order 745 requires market operators to pay the same price to demand response providers for conserving energy as to the generators for making energy. The D.C. Circuit Court held that FERC lacked authority to issue the order because Order 745 would directly regulate retail electricity rates. The D.C. Circuit Court also held that FERC’s demand response compensation scheme was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.
In a binding poll of the issues taken at its September 17, 2015 Public Meeting, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) unanimously voted in support of the Natural Gas Supplier Parties’ (“NGS Parties”) request to modify the way Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania (“Columbia”) refunds back to customers’ their share of off-system sales revenue.
Almost one year to the day from its 2014 rate increase filing, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania is back before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission seeking an additional $46 million in revenue.
Despite high demand due to persistent cold weather, heating oil and propane will continue to flow to Pennsylvania homes due in part to the extension of the drivers’ hours-of-operation exemption issued by the Governor’s Office.
The Commonwealth Court Strikes a Delicate Balance Between Environmental Protection, Economic Development, and Deference to the Legislative Branch.
In Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation v. Com., -- A.3d – (2015), the Commonwealth Court issued a decision that balanced statutory and constitutional environmental protections against economic development and deference to collateral branches of government. Specifically, in a 6-1 decision, the Court held that legislation authorizing revenue contributions to the General Assembly’s annual appropriations fund (“General Fund”) from a fund financed by oil and natural gas leases on public lands (“Lease Fund”) executed between the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (“DCNR”)and various private parties does not violate Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the “Environmental Rights Amendment”).
“Tip Letter” and Records Related to Investigation Leading to PUC-Approved Settlement Not Subject to Disclosure
The PUC is not required to disclose a utility employee’s “tip letter” or other records relating to an investigation of the utility’s practices where the documents are not considered by the Commissioners when approving the resulting settlement.
In a 5-2 en banc opinion issued December 22, the Commonwealth Court flatly rejected the notion that a utility must prove “absolute necessity” before resorting to condemnation. Affirming the PUC’s grant of PPL Electric’s application to exercise its eminent domain power to acquire rights-of-way and easements over the private lands of protestants to construct a new eleven-mile transmission line across the Susquehanna River and a related substation, the Court reaffirmed prior case law adopting an easier hurdle for would-be utility condemnors. As the Court reasoned: “Under Protestants’ proposed standard, utilities could only seek approval … when a problem is looming and the resolution is ‘absolutely necessary.’ Utilities would essentially have to wait until an existing system fails before seeking approval of a project. Not only would this approach be impractical and unrealistic, it would actually pose a danger to the health, safety and welfare of the public.” Hess v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 1370 C.D. 2013 (December 22, 2014) (en banc).
PA Supreme Court Upholds Narrow Application of the Service Point Doctrine to Impose Duty to Warn of Danger on Customer Premises Where Utility Has Actual or Constructive Knowledge of Danger
In a 4-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a Superior Court decision overturning the trial court and denying Duquesne Light summary judgment on the issue of whether a utility has a duty to warn a customer of potential danger on the customer’s side of the service point where the utility has taken affirmative action to restore service and has actual or constructive knowledge of such danger. Alderwoods, Inc. v. Duquesne Light Co., No. 12 WAP 2013 (Pa. December 15, 2014). The case arose from a fire caused by an electrical panel in the basement of Alderwoods’ funeral home after Duquesne restored service to the premises by making substantial repairs to a utility pole downed by a car crash outside the funeral home. Slip op. at 2.
Last week on our list of waiver traps for Pennsylvania appellate practitioners (“Taking an Appeal in PA? 10 Waiver Traps to Avoid,” 24 Nov. 2014), we included the warning “be specific enough in your petition for review.” Fortunately, effective January 1, 2015, that trap has largely disappeared, as the result of yesterday’s amendment to Pa. R.A.P. 1513(d). That rule, which requires the petitioner from an agency order to include in an appellate petition for review a “general statement of the objections to the order or other determination,” has too often been the basis for a finding of waiver of issues not specifically mentioned, sometimes resulting in the outright quashing of an entire appeal on essentially technical “gotcha” grounds. The rule as amended retains the requirement for a “general statement of objections,” but adds the important qualification that “the omission of an issue from the statement shall not be the basis for a finding of waiver if the court is able to address the issue based on the certified record.” The Official Note explains that the purpose of the amendment is to “preclude a finding of waiver” if an issue that is briefed but omitted from the petition for review can be addressed by the court on the basis of the certified record. In other words, if an issue is otherwise preserved, but overlooked in the petition for review, that fact will no longer be a basis for a finding of waiver. One less thing to worry about for administrative law practitioners! A copy of the amendment to Rule 1513 can be found here.
As the PA PUC embarks on its investigation of the natural gas markets, what evidence can we discern about how the agency sees competitive energy markets and how those markets should evolve?
Public Utility Commission (PUC) Commissioners gave Sunoco Pipeline a fighting chance at exemption from local zoning for outbuildings housing utility structures on the Mariner East Pipeline, finding prima facie evidence that Sunoco is a public utility and overruling the ALJs’ July 23, 2014 Initial Decision granting preliminary objections finding to the contrary.
Sunoco’s proposed Mariner East pipeline that would transport natural gas liquids (NGLs) from Pennsylvania’s rich Marcellus Shale production in Western Pennsylvania to processing plants in southeastern Pennsylvania, received a blow from Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission ALJs on July 23, 2014.
On Thursday, July 24, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission decided on a way forward that will allow App-based transportation networking services Uber and Lyft to continue operating in Pittsburgh while the Commission decides whether and how to grant them permanent authority to operate. The Commission granted Emergency Temporary Authority (“ETA”) for the entities to operate experimental transportation networks in Allegheny County and simultaneously granted Commission prosecutorial staff petitions ordering the entities to cease and desist operations. The net effect is that the Commission has determined on a preliminary basis that Uber and Lyft have been operating illegally (i.e., before their applications to provide transportation service were granted), but has also allowed them to continue operating (in compliance with strict ETA requirements) while their pending applications are being considered by PUC ALJs. Moreover, during their operation under ETA, the Commission directed that the entities maintain insurance higher than the minimum required by the relevant regulations and imposed eligibility restrictions on vehicles that offer transportation service.