High court reverses decision in M.U.D. case
State regulators have authority over the Metropolitan Utilities District's bid to sell natural gas to other utilities' customers, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled today .
The high court reversed a Lancaster County District Court decision that said the Nebraska Public Service Commission lacked jurisdiction over the publicly owned utility.
But the lower court still will have to decide whether M.U.D. should be certified as a competitive natural gas provider and allowed to market gas outside its territory.
The utility sought approval to market gas in 2003. Utility officials said they made the request after receiving inquiries from a couple of major industries wanting to save money on their gas bills.
The Public Service Commission turned down the application. Commissioner Anne Boyle said the panel found no indication that the State Legislature ever intended for public utilities to market natural gas.
Marketing gas is different from providing gas to customers within the M.U.D. territory, because it would be done on a selective basis and gas would be sold on whatever terms the two parties agree to.
The utility appealed the commission's decision in District Court, which ruled that the commission had no authority over the utility.
The commission, in turn, appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Cornerstone Energy, Aquila and NorthWestern Energy all joined on the side of the commission.
Tom Wurtz, M.U.D. president, said the company will continue to fight the case in the lower court.
He said companies should be able to turn to M.U.D. to save money on gas. Allowing M.U.D. to market natural gas also could help with economic development by reducing the cost of doing business.
The case has no effect on current customers and operations, said Dan Crouchley, general counsel for M.U.D. It also has no effect on the utility's dispute with the commission over building natural gas lines into Sarpy County, he said.