October 1, 2018
Energy & Utilities

Utilities notch legal win in natural-gas fight

Matt Pilon

Eversource and Avangrid have notched a legal victory in their ongoing fight to discredit allegations that their natural-gas ordering practices cost New England ratepayers an additional $3.6 billion between 2013 and 2016.

Last month, a federal judge in Massachusetts granted the two utility companies' motion to dismiss a proposed class action lawsuit filed by a group of New England ratepayers, including four from Connecticut, alleging violations of federal antitrust and state laws in relation to how the utilities reserve gas pipeline capacity.

The Nov. 2017 suit cited a report from a group of economists and academics, including one from the Environmental Defense Fund, who claimed the utilities had artificially constrained pipeline capacity by reserving more space than they needed, leading to higher natural gas and electricity prices in New England. The dismissed lawsuit argued that ratepayers are entitled to damages and injunctive relief.

Eversource has called the report flawed and threatened a defamation lawsuit against its authors. The utility also issued its own report rebutting the claims.

On Sept. 11, Judge Denise Casper sided with the utilities, ruling that the ratepayers' claims were preempted by the "filed rate doctrine," which bars courts from setting aside or second-guessing rates approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Casper also ruled that the plaintiffs lacked antitrust standing and hadn't suffered an antitrust injury, among other issues.

The Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) initiated a review of the two utilities' natural gas practices after the critical report published last year.

PURA hasn't issued a decision in that docket, but a FERC inquiry concluded in February that there was no evidence of capacity withholding.

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