Articles Posted in Utilities Law

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8x8 provides telephone services via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Customers use a digital terminal adapter, containing 8x8’s proprietary firmware and software. Customers’ calls are switched to traditional lines and circuits when necessary; 8x8 did not pay Federal Communications Excise Tax (FCET) to the traditional carriers, based on an “exemption certificate,” (I.R.C. 4253). Consistent with its subscription plan, 8x8 collected FCET from its customers and remitted FCET to the IRS. In 2005, courts held that section 4251 did not permit the IRS to tax telephone services that billed at a fixed per-minute, non-distance-sensitive rate. The IRS ceased collecting FCET on “amounts paid for time-only service,” stated that VoIP services were non-taxable, and established a process seeking a refund of FCET that had been exacted on nontaxable services, stating stated that a “collector” can request a refund if the collector either “establishes that it repaid the amount of the tax to the person from whom the tax was collected”; or “obtains the written consent of such person to the allowance of such credit or refund.” The IRS denied 8x8’s refund claim. The Claims Court concluded that 8x8 lacked standing and granted the government summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed; 8x8 did not bear the economic burden of FCET, but sought to recover costs borne by its customers, contrary to the Code. The court rejected an argument that FCET was “treated as paid” during the transfer of services to traditional carriers. View "8x8, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The power companies allege that they were overcharged for electricity during several months in 2000–2001 and sought to recover the overcharges from the federal government based on sales by the federal Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The California Power Exchange (Cal-PX) and the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) were responsible for acquiring and distributing electricity between producers and consumers in California and setting prices for the electricity. The power companies argued that a contract existed between all consumers of electricity (including themselves) and all producers of electricity (including the government agencies) in California. The government argued that the contracts were only between the middleman entities—Cal-PX and Cal-ISO—and the consumers and producers individually. The Claims Court dismissed for lack of standing. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The companies lack privity of contract or any other relationship with the government that would confer standing. Under the Tucker Act, the Claims Court has jurisdiction over contract cases in which the government is a party, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1); normally a contract between the plaintiff and the government is required to establish standing. The court noted that the companies may have claims against the parties with whom they are in contractual privity, the electricity exchanges. View "Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 authorized the Department of Energy (DOE) to contract with power utilities for a planned national nuclear waste disposal system, 42 U.S.C. 10222. Utilities were to pay into a Nuclear Waste Fund; the government was to dispose of their spent nuclear fuel beginning by January 31, 1998.. Under the Standard Contract, utilities must provide “preparation, packaging, required inspections, and loading activities necessary for the transportation … to the DOE facility.” DOE is responsible for “arrang[ing] for, and provid[ing], a cask(s) and all necessary transportation … to the DOE facility.” In 1983, System Fuels entered Standard Contracts concerning the Grand Gulf and Arkansas Nuclear One power stations. The government has yet to begin accepting spent nuclear fuel. System Fuels obtained damages for costs incurred through August 31, 2005 (Grand) and June 30, 2006 (Arkansas), including costs to construct Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations (ISFSIs) and later successfully sought damages for continued breach. The Claims Court denied costs incurred to load spent fuel into storage casks at the ISFSIs by first loading it into canisters, then loading those canisters into dry fuel storage casks and welding the casks closed. The Federal Circuit reversed, noting that under the Standard Contracts, DOE cannot accept any of the canistered fuel as is, so System Fuels will incur costs to unload the casks and canisters and to reload fuel into transportation casks if and when DOE performs. View "System Fuels, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Bay County Utilities provides water and sewer services. The County Commissioners establish rates. In 1966, the U.S. Air Force contracted with the County for water services at Tyndall Air Force Base. The parties entered into a sewer services contract in 1985. Both required the parties to renegotiate any new rates. In 1994, Federal Acquisition Regulations were amended to require standardized clauses in utility service contracts. When the government is contracting with an unregulated utility or the utility is subject to non-independent oversight, the parties must negotiate new rates. If the utility is overseen by an independent regulatory body, no further negotiations are required. In 2007 and 2009, Bay County increased water rates. The Air Force ignored those increases, but, in 2009 and 2010, unilaterally modified the water contract, with new rates, lower than the rates set by Bay County. In 2009 Bay County increased sewer rates. The Air Force refused to pay those higher rates, and instituted a unilateral contract modification to moderately increase sewer rates. Bay County submitted unsuccessful Contract Disputes Act claims to recover the unpaid balance of approximately $850,000. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Court of Federal Claims, holding that Bay County is an independent regulatory body and may revise rates in utility contracts without resorting to negotiations with the Air Force. View "Bay Cnty., Fla. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Casitas Water District operates the Ventura River Project, which is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and provides water to Ventura County, California, using dams, reservoirs, a canal, pump stations, and many miles of pipeline. In 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the West Coast steelhead trout as an endangered species and determined that the primary cause of its decline was loss of habitat due to water development, including impassable dams. Casitas faced liability if continued operation of the Project resulted in harm to the steelhead, 16 U.S.C. 1538(a)(1), 1540(a)–(b). In 2003, NMFS issued a biological opinion concerning operation of a fish ladder to relieve Casitas of liability. Casitas opened the Robles fish ladder, then filed suit, asserting that the biological opinion operating criteria breached its 1956 Contract with the government or amounted to uncompensated taking of Casitas’s property. The Claims Court dismissed, citing the sovereign acts doctrine. The Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal of the contract claim, but reversed dismissal of Casitas’s takings claim. The court again dismissed, holding that Casitas had failed to show that the operating criteria had thus far resulted in any reduction of water deliveries, so a takings claim was not yet ripe. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Casitas Mun. Water Dist. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In its tax return for the year 1997, ConEd claimed multiple deductions pertaining to a lease-in/lease-out (LILO) tax shelter transaction under which a Dutch utility, EZH, a tax-indifferent entity because it is not subject to U.S. taxation, conveyed to ConEd a gas-fired cogeneration plant that delivers power to customers in the Netherlands, then leased it back, followed by a reconveyance to EZH and a sublease. The stated purpose of the arrangement was tax avoidance. LILO transactions accelerate losses to the taxpayer and defer gains. The transaction provided several upfront deductions that allowed ConEd to pay lower taxes in 1997 (and in later years) than it otherwise would have. The IRS disallowed these claimed deductions and assessed a deficiency of $328,066. ConEd paid the deficiency and filed a refund claim; when this claim was denied, ConEd filed suit. The Claims Court awarded ConEd a full refund. The Federal Circuit reversed, applying the substance-over-form doctrine to conclude that ConEd’s claimed deductions must be disallowed. There was a reasonable likelihood that EZH would exercise its purchase option at the conclusion of the ConEd sublease, thus rendering the master lease illusory. View "Consol. Edison Co. of NY v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Dominion, a power company, replaced coal burners in two of its plants, temporarily removing the units from service for two to three months. During that time, Dominion incurred interest on debt unrelated to the improvements. On its tax returns, Dominion deducted some of that interest. The IRS disagreed, citing Treasury Regulation 1.263A-11(e)(1)(ii)(B), as requiring Dominion to capitalize half ($3.3 million) of that interest over several years, instead of deducting it in a single tax year. The Claims Court granted summary judgment to the IRS. The Federal Circuit reversed. The associated property rule in Treasury Regulation 1.263A-11(e)(1)(ii)(B), as applied to property temporarily withdrawn from service, is not a reasonable interpretation of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, I.R.C. 263A (Capitalization and Inclusion in Inventory Costs of Certain Expenses). Treasury acted contrary to 5 U.S.C. 706(2) in failing to provide a reasoned explanation when it promulgated that regulation. View "Dominon Res., Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1983, Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 10101-10270, authorizing the Department of Energy to enter into contracts with nuclear facilities for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW). Congress mandated that, under the Standard Contract, DOE dispose of SNF and HLW beginning not later than January 31, 1998. In 1983, DOE entered into a Standard Contract with Consolidated Edison under which DOE agreed to accept SNF stored at the Indian Point facility. Following DOE’s breach, the Claims Court awarded two categories of damages: wet storage costs for continued operation of its Unit 1 spent fuel pool and regulatory fees paid to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Federal Circuit reversed the awards, affirmed denial of damages for the cost of financing mitigation activities, but reversed denial of damages for indirect overhead costs associated with mitigation. The company had chosen to prioritize removal of Unit 2 SNF and Unit 1 material would not have been removed by the time at issue; the company did not establish that the breach caused an increase in fees to the NRC. View "Consol. Edison Co. of NY, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1983, Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, authorizing contracts with nuclear plant utilities, generators of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HWL) under which the gVovernment would accept and dispose of nuclear waste in return for the generators paying into a Nuclear Waste Fund, 42 U.S.C. 10131. In 1983, the Department of Energy entered into the standard contract with plaintiff to accept SNF and HLW. In 1987, Congress amended the NWPA to specify that the repository would be in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The government has yet to accept spent fuel. The current estimate is that the government will not begin accepting waste until 2020, if at all. In 2001, plaintiff began constructing dry storage facilities to provide on-site storage for SNF rather than to continue using an outside company (ISFSI project). The Court of Federal Claims awarded $142,394,294 for expenses due to DOE’s breach; 23,657,791 was attributable to indirect overhead costs associated with the ISFSI project. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Breach of the standard contract caused plaintiff to build, staff, and maintain an entirely new facility; the ISFSI facilities had not existed prior to the breach and were necessitated by the breach.

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The U.S. Department of Energy breached its agreement to accept spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power utilities, including plaintiff, a Wisconsin power cooperative, no longer in operation. Plaintiff maintains 38 metric tons of spent uranium on its property. Had DOE not breached the agreement, the material would have been removed in 2006. Plaintiff joined a consortium of 11 utilities to develop a private repository. The district court awarded about $37.6 million: $16.6 million for maintaining the fuel on-site from 1998 to 2006, $12 million for investment in the consortium, and $6.1 million for various overhead costs associated with mitigation. The Federal Circuit vacated in part. The claims court properly determined that plaintiff was entitled to damages for the entire period, 1999-2006; properly awarded overhead; properly offset the consortium costs; but should have limited the award with respect to the consortium to expenses incurred for mitigation.