A new year is upon us; and while that may facially seem like a good thing, the continued uncertainty has people anxious. I feel challenged to consider what issues, concerns, and hot topics are likely to rise the surface in the next twelve months. With the pandemic still at the top of the news queue most of the time, and with many people still working from home, if they are working at all, picking the possible hot-button issues is no easy task. The trick, if there is one, is to narrow down the range of probable outcomes – in this case, to things that were begun and not finished. What follows are my predictions for those industries regulated by public utility commissions – and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PaPUC”) in particular.
HMS Legal Blog
After a long, complex path, Pennsylvania has finally arrived as an alternative ratemaking state. But who will be the first utility to avail itself of the options now available? Both the Wolf administration (“Administration”) and the Public Utility Commission (“Commission”) seem eager to have a test subject, I mean a willing participant, to propose an alternative ratemaking design. . But there are specific steps a utility must take in order to comply with, and obtain approval from, the Commission.
There have been at least two bills recently introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly introducing a new model for expanding the deployment of solar energy production in the Keystone State. Community Solar is not a technology but rather a business model that allows “community solar organizations” (community-based organizations or for-profit entities), to develop “Community solar facilities” (solar installations no larger than 3 MW under most circumstances) that have “subscribers” (individuals or businesses who pay a subscription fee to receive a specified percentage of the solar output). The subscription is transferable and provides a credit on the local electric utility bill for their subscribed portion of the output. Legislation is required because this arrangement is not contemplated by the current renewables law, the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (“AEPS Act”), 73 P.S. §§ 1648.1, et seq., or the Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act (“Choice Act”), 66 Pa. C.S. §§ 2801, et seq.,- creating new obligations for both electric distribution companies (“EDC”) and the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”).
Most US taxpayers are by now conscious of the passage of President Trump’s signature tax legislation which dramatically reduces the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. What many folks may not know is that the rates they pay to their local utility include recovery for the income tax expense of those utilities. This raises the question that some states, notably Kentucky and Oklahoma, have already begun to address: “How do regulators make sure that utility rates promptly reflect the substantial reduction in tax liability?” In Oklahoma, the Attorney General has called upon the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to address the tax savings issue which he estimates to total $100 million statewide. The Kentucky Public Service Commission already has ordered utilities to track their savings due to the tax change and to timely pass these savings on to customers. Montana and Michigan are taking similar actions.
On June 30, 2016, at its most recent public meeting, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“Commission”) set a precedent important to Pennsylvania Uber (operating in Pennsylvania under its subsidiary Raiser-PA) and Lyft users alike by granting Yellow Cab Company of Pittsburgh, Inc. (“Yellow Cab”), a temporary extension of one year of operating authority to provide Transportation Network Service (“TNC”) in Pennsylvania. Although Yellow Cab may no longer be a household name like Uber and Lyft, the service that it provides is identical. In fact, Yellow Cab was the first Transportation Network Service (“TNC”) or app-based transportation provider that was granted temporary authority to operate in Pennsylvania. But under the Commission’s regulations, TNC authority is considered “experimental” and therefore is temporary and only valid for two years. Yellow Cab was granted authority to operate beginning in July 2014 and without the Commission’s June 30th Order, it would have been required to cease operating on July 1, 2016.
When Pennsylvania’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (“IRRC”) voted unanimously at its June 30, 2016 meeting to disapprove for a second time the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (“PUC”) recent efforts to modify its regulations implementing the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards(“AEPS”) Act, it was aware that its action would at most place a speed bump in the PUC’s path, but it disapproved the regulations anyway.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901(Pa. 2013) the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated key provisions of Act 13, the statute that removed from local zoning control the power to regulate oil and gas operations through restrictions on the placement and operation of oil and gas facilities. The Court remanded to the Commonwealth Court to consider whether other provisions of Act 13, including provisions that give the PUC power to review local zoning ordinances and withhold impact fees, remain viable.
On May 15, 2014, during the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s annual meeting, the PBA’s Administrative Law Section presented the James S. Bowman Award to Kevin J. McKeon of Hawke McKeon & Sniscak, LLP. The award honors a lawyer who is making a significant impact on the practice of administrative law and who is demonstrating leadership in mentoring administrative law practitioners. McKeon regularly represents clients before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and also serves as lead counsel on significant cases before Pennsylvania’s appellate courts and the federal circuit courts of appeal. He serves on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee, is a co-author of Pennsylvania Appellate Practice, and is a frequent lecturer on topics in administrative law and appellate procedure. The award is named for the late Honorable James S. Bowman, the first President Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, whose comprehensive knowledge of administrative law, government law and appellate procedure was widely recognized and respected.
The Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) recently issued a Tentative Order in the matter of: The Use of Fixed Price Labels for Products With a Pass-Through Clause, Docket No. M-2013-2362961 (Tentative Order entered May 23, 2013), in which it requested interested parties to comment on what it views as an emerging problem: certain Electric Generation Suppliers (“EGS”) offering products labeled as “fixed price” when the products clearly are “variable price” products. Comments were filed June 24 and a PUC decision is expected soon.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) caused quite a stir with its August 16, 2012 Order that partially approved the jointly filed default service plans of the four First Energy electric utility affiliates serving in Pennsylvania.
 Joint Petition of Metropolitan Edison Company, Pennsylvania Electric Company, Pennsylvania Power Company and West Penn Power Company for Approval of their Default Service Programs, Docket Nos. P-2011-2273650 et al. (Order entered August 16, 2012)(“First Energy Order”) .
Providing a win to competitive suppliers, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) at its July 19 public meeting unanimously denied PPL’s request for a migration rider for default service customers.
Historically the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has permitted natural gas distribution companies (NGDCs) to use flexible pricing or “flex” contract rates to attract or retain large customers who have other energy alternatives. The reasoning has been that “half a loaf is better than none,” and that such revenues, which cover and exceed marginal cost, contribute positively to overall cost of service. The result is a benefit to the large customer, the utility, and all customers generally. Moreover, in terms of retaining a customer, the argument in favor of the status quo is that other ratepayers benefit as they do not bear the revenue burden of stranded investment or a smaller revenue pot over which to apply costs. The NGDCs have generally been able to recover from other ratepayers the difference between the “flex” rate and what would have otherwise been charged under an ordinary general tariff rate.
Utility customers who challenge billing practices under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) must bring their challenge first to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), but may pursue their claim in civil court under the UTPCPL if the PUC concludes that the utility violated its tariff, the Commonwealth Court has ruled.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) granted Laser Northeast Gathering Co.’s (“Laser”) petition to withdrawal its application to become a public utility.
By a 3-2 vote adopting a motion by PUC Vice Chairman John F. Coleman Jr., the PUC approved Laser’s petition to withdraw its application and denied the request of certain parties to rescind its prior Orders in the case. PUC Commissioner Pamela A. Witmer and Commissioner James H. Cawley dissented not as to granting withdrawal but as to the issue of whether the prior Orders should be rescinded.