Friday, October 18, 2013

ALJs Rule that Refund Statute May Apply in National Fuel Gas Rates Proceeding

 In the pending proceeding to review natural gas rates of National Fuel Gas Distribution Company, the New York Public Service Commission set temporary rates subject to refund prospectively from the date of its order. In addition, in light of apparent over earnings in the past, the PSC asked the Administrative Law Judges to examine whether a rarely used statute authorizing refunds of past utility earnings in excess of the intended return applies to the case.  See PSC Power to Order Refund of Earnings Above Authorized Return at Issue in National Fuel Case, October 7, 2013.

The Utility Project and Department of Public Service Staff filed briefs supporting application of the refund statute in this case.  The Utility Project brief provides a detailed analysis of how deferred costs for pension and retirement costs, which ultimately are paid by customers, built up over the same period when National Fuel was overearning.  National Fuel filed a statement opposing application of the law and alternatively limiting it, and a reply brief in response to Staff and the Utility Project on October 16, 2013.

In a short Ruling Concerning the Applicability of PSL 66(20) on October 18, 2013, the Judges ruled that the refund statute may be applied, and said a fuller opinion will be issued. The judges sought input by October 29 from the parties regarding whether to adopt a  litigation schedule for the refund of past earnings issue that would be different from the current litigation timetable for the rate case.  That schedule calls for National Fuel to file testimony and exhibits regarding rates on November 1, 2013.  A decision would be reached by the Commission, at the earliest, in August 2014.

Gerald A. Norlander

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