Articles Posted in Utilities Law

by
Charges that constitute compensation for the use of government property are not subject to Proposition 218’s voter approval requirements. To constitute compensation for a property interest, however, the amount of the charge must bear a reasonable relationship to the value of the property interest, and to the extent the charge exceeds any reasonable value of the interest, it is a tax and requires voter approval. Plaintiffs contended that a one percent charge that was separately stated on electricity bills issued by Southern California Edison (SCE) was not compensation for the privilege of using property owned by the City of Santa Barbara but was instead a tax imposed without voter approval, in violation of Proposition 218. The City argued that this separate charge was the fee paid by SCE to the City for the privilege of using City property in connection with the delivery of electricity. The Supreme Court held that the complaint and stipulated facts adequately alleged the basis for a claim that the surcharge bore no reasonable relationship to the value of the property interest and was therefore a tax requiring voter approval under Proposition 218. The court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Jacks v. City of Santa Barbara" on Justia Law

by
Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, a public agency, undertook work to mitigate environmental damage caused by California-American Water Co. (Cal-Am), a public utility, and then assessed a fee on the utility’s customers for the work. The fee was charged as a line item on Cal-Am’s bill and was collected by the Cal-Am on behalf of the District. In the underlying proceedings, Cal-Am filed an application with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for authorization to collect the District user’s fee. Before the PUC responded, Cal-Am, the District, and the PUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates entered into a settlement agreement under which the parties agreed that the District’s requested user fee was appropriate. The PUC denied Cal-Am’s application and rejected the settlement agreement. The Supreme Court set aside the PUC decisions rejecting Cal-Am’s application for authorization to collect the District’s user fee, holding that the PUC did not have the power to regulate the District’s user fee. View "Monterey Peninsula Water Mgmt. Dist. v. Pub. Utils. Comm’n" on Justia Law

by
In assessing the value of electric power plants for purposes of property taxation, assessors may not include the value of intangible assets and rights in the value of taxable property. An electric company purchased "emission reduction credits" (ERCs), which the company had to purchase to obtain authorization to construct an electric power plant and to operate it at certain air-pollutant emission levels. These ERCs constituted intangible rights for property taxation purposes. In assessing the value of the power plant using the replacement cost method, the State Board of Equalization (Board) estimated the cost of replacing the ERCs. In also using an income approach in assessing the plant, the Board failed to attribute a portion or the plant's income stream to the ERCs and to deduct that value from the plant's projected income stream prior to taxation. In analyzing the Board's valuation of the power plant, the Supreme Court held (1) the Board improperly taxed the power company's ERCs when it added their replacement cost to the power plant's taxable value; and (2) the Board was not required to deduct a value attributable to the ERCs under an income approach. Remanded.View "Elk Hills Power, LLC v. Bd. of Equalization" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, an environmental organization, filed this administrative mandamus action to challenge the issuance of a federally required permit authorizing the Moss Landing Powerplant (MLPP) to draw cooling water from the adjacent Moss Landing Harbor and Elkhorn Slough. This case presented issues concerning the technological and environmental standards, and the procedures for administrative and judicial review, that apply when a thermal powerplant, while pursuing the issuance or renewal of a cooling water intake permit from a regional board, also sought necessary approval from the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission (Energy Commission), of a plan to add additional generating units to the plant, with related modifications to the cooling intake system. The court held that the superior court had jurisdiction to entertain the administrative mandamus petition here under review. The court also held that the trial court erred when it deferred a final judgment, ordered an interlocutory remand to the board for further "comprehensive" examination of that issue, then denied mandamus after determining that the additional evidence and analysis considered by the board on remand supported the board's reaffirmed findings. The court further held that recent Supreme Court authority confirmed that, when applying federal Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1326(b), standards for the issuance of this permit, the Regional Water Board properly utilized cost-benefit analysis. The court declined to address several other issues discussed by the parties. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Voices of the Wetlands v. CA State Water Resources Control Bd., et al." on Justia Law