Utilities Sue Department of Energy

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A long-simmering dispute between a group of public utilities and the Oregon Department of Energy boiled over into a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court this week.

The utilities, which provide electricity mostly to rural areas, pay an annual fee to the department called the “energy suppliers’ assessment” or ESA. That fee generates about $13 million a biennium and accounts for about a third of the agency’s budget.

The lawsuit is another headache for an agency that has been plagued by turnover and has drawn attention for its inconsistent and at times overly generous handling of tax credits.

The rural utilities have sought greater transparency from the agency on how the money is used. The PUDs desire for transparency resulted in the passage of a new law in 2013 requiring the agency to hold a meeting with the PUDs in which the agency would lay out its revenue requirements and proposed expenditures prior to the legislative budget process.

The lawsuit, filed by the Stoel Rives firm on behalf of the utilities alleges the agency failed in 2015 to comply with the new law, holding a meeting with some but not all PUDs and providing only cursory information to them.

“ODOE subsequently filed its budget forms without holding any public meetings with ESA suppliers about ESA allocations,” the lawsuit says.

The utilities are asking the state to repay the money they paid to the Energy Department since 2007 and want the court to order the agency to follow the 2013 law requiring greater transparency.

Kristina Edmunson, a spokewoman for the Oregon Department of Justice, which defends state agencies in court says her agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

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