|Contingencies and Commitments
CMS Energy and Consumers are involved in various matters that give rise to contingent liabilities. Depending on the specific issues, the resolution of these contingencies could negatively affect CMS Energy’s and Consumers’ liquidity, financial condition, and results of operations. In their disclosures of these matters, CMS Energy and Consumers provide an estimate of the possible loss or range of loss when such an estimate can be made. Disclosures that state that CMS Energy or Consumers cannot predict the outcome of a matter indicate that they are unable to estimate a possible loss or range of loss for the matter.
CMS Energy Contingencies
Gas Index Price Reporting Litigation: CMS Energy, along with CMS MST, CMS Field Services, Cantera Natural Gas, Inc., and Cantera Gas Company, were named as defendants in four class action lawsuits and one individual lawsuit arising as a result of alleged inaccurate natural gas price reporting to publications that report trade information. Allegations include price‑fixing conspiracies, restraint of trade, and artificial inflation of natural gas retail prices in Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin. In 2016, CMS Energy entities reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in the Kansas and Missouri class action cases for an amount that was not material to CMS Energy. In 2017, the federal district court approved the settlement. Plaintiffs are making claims for the following: treble damages, full consideration damages, exemplary damages, costs, interest, and/or attorneys’ fees.
After removal to federal court, all of the cases were transferred to a single federal district court pursuant to the multidistrict litigation process. In 2010 and 2011, all claims against CMS Energy defendants were dismissed by the district court based on FERC preemption.
In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court decision. The appellate court found that FERC preemption does not apply under the facts of these cases. The appellate court affirmed the district court’s denial of leave to amend to add federal antitrust claims. The matter was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2015 upheld the Ninth Circuit’s decision. The cases were remanded back to the federal district court.
In 2016, the federal district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in the individual lawsuit filed in Kansas based on a release in a prior settlement involving similar allegations; the order of summary judgment was subsequently appealed. In March 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling and remanded the case back to the federal district court.
In 2017, the federal district court denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification in the two pending class action cases in Wisconsin. The plaintiffs appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit and in August 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the matter back to the federal district court for further consideration.
In January 2019, the judge in the multidistrict litigation granted motions filed by plaintiffs for Suggestion of Remand of the actions back to the respective transferor courts in Wisconsin and Kansas for further handling. In the Kansas action, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered the remand and the case has been transferred. In the Wisconsin actions, oppositions to the remand were filed, but the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation granted the remand in June 2019.
These cases involve complex facts, a large number of similarly situated defendants with different factual positions, and multiple jurisdictions. Presently, any estimate of liability would be highly speculative; the amount of CMS Energy’s reasonably possible loss would be based on widely varying models previously untested in this context. If the outcome after appeals is unfavorable, these cases could negatively affect CMS Energy’s liquidity, financial condition, and results of operations.
Bay Harbor: CMS Land retained environmental remediation obligations for the collection and treatment of leachate, a liquid consisting of water and other substances, at Bay Harbor after selling its interests in the development in 2002. Leachate is produced when water enters into cement kiln dust piles left over from former cement plant operations at the site. In 2012, CMS Land and EGLE finalized an agreement that established the final remedies and the future water quality criteria at the site. CMS Land completed all construction necessary to implement the remedies required by the agreement and will continue to maintain and operate a system to discharge treated leachate into Little Traverse Bay under an NPDES permit issued in 2010 and renewed in 2016. The renewed NPDES permit is valid through September 2020.
At September 30, 2019, CMS Energy had a recorded liability of $44 million for its remaining obligations for environmental remediation. CMS Energy calculated this liability based on discounted projected costs, using a discount rate of 4.34 percent and an inflation rate of one percent on annual operating and maintenance costs. The undiscounted amount of the remaining obligation is $56 million. CMS Energy expects to pay the following amounts for long‑term liquid disposal and operating and maintenance costs during the remainder of 2019 and in each of the next five years:
Long‑term liquid disposal and operating and maintenance costs
CMS Energy’s estimate of response activity costs and the timing of expenditures could change if there are changes in circumstances or assumptions used in calculating the liability. Although a liability for its present estimate of remaining response activity costs has been recorded, CMS Energy cannot predict the ultimate financial impact or outcome of this matter.
Equatorial Guinea Tax Claim: In 2002, CMS Energy sold its oil, gas, and methanol investments in Equatorial Guinea. The government of Equatorial Guinea claims that, in connection with the sale, CMS Energy owes $152 million in taxes, plus substantial penalties and interest that could be up to or exceed the amount of the taxes claimed. In 2015, the matter was proceeding to formal arbitration; however, since then, the government of Equatorial Guinea has stopped communicating. CMS Energy has concluded that the government’s tax claim is without merit and will continue to contest the claim, but cannot predict the financial impact or outcome of the matter. An unfavorable outcome could have a material adverse effect on CMS Energy’s liquidity, financial condition, and results of operations.
Consumers Electric Utility Contingencies
Electric Environmental Matters: Consumers’ operations are subject to environmental laws and regulations. Historically, Consumers has generally been able to recover, in customer rates, the costs to operate its facilities in compliance with these laws and regulations.
Cleanup and Solid Waste: Consumers expects to incur remediation and other response activity costs at a number of sites under the NREPA. Consumers believes that these costs should be recoverable in rates, but cannot guarantee that outcome. Consumers estimates that its liability for NREPA sites for which it can estimate a range of loss will be between $3 million and $4 million. At September 30, 2019, Consumers had a recorded liability of $3 million, the minimum amount in the range of its estimated probable NREPA liability, as no amount in the range was considered a better estimate than any other amount.
Consumers is a potentially responsible party at a number of contaminated sites administered under CERCLA. CERCLA liability is joint and several. In 2010, Consumers received official notification from the EPA that identified Consumers as a potentially responsible party for cleanup of PCBs at the Kalamazoo River CERCLA site. The notification claimed that the EPA has reason to believe that Consumers disposed of PCBs and arranged for the disposal and treatment of PCB‑containing materials at portions of the site. In 2011, Consumers received a follow‑up letter from the EPA requesting that Consumers agree to participate in a removal action plan along with several other companies for an area of lower Portage Creek, which is connected to the Kalamazoo River. All parties, including Consumers, that were asked to participate in the removal action plan declined to accept liability. Until further information is received from the EPA, Consumers is unable to estimate a range of potential liability for cleanup of the river.
Based on its experience, Consumers estimates that its share of the total liability for known CERCLA sites will be between $3 million and $8 million. Various factors, including the number and creditworthiness of potentially responsible parties involved with each site, affect Consumers’ share of the total liability. At September 30, 2019, Consumers had a recorded liability of $3 million for its share of the total liability at these sites, the minimum amount in the range of its estimated probable CERCLA liability, as no amount in the range was considered a better estimate than any other amount.
The timing of payments related to Consumers’ remediation and other response activities at its CERCLA and NREPA sites is uncertain. Consumers periodically reviews these cost estimates. A change in the underlying assumptions, such as an increase in the number of sites, different remediation techniques, the nature and extent of contamination, and legal and regulatory requirements, could affect its estimates of NREPA and CERCLA liability.
Ludington PCB: In 1998, during routine maintenance activities, Consumers identified PCB as a component in certain paint, grout, and sealant materials at Ludington. Consumers removed part of the PCB material and replaced it with non‑PCB material. Consumers has had several communications with the EPA regarding this matter, but cannot predict the financial impact or outcome.
MCV PPA: In December 2017, the MCV Partnership initiated arbitration against Consumers, asserting a breach of contract associated with the MCV PPA. Under this PPA, Consumers pays the MCV Partnership a fixed energy charge based on Consumers’ annual average baseload coal generating plant operating and maintenance cost, fuel inventory, and administrative and general expenses. The MCV Partnership asserts that, under the Clean Air Act, Consumers should have installed pollution control equipment on coal‑fueled electric generating units years before they were retired. The MCV Partnership also asserts that Consumers should have installed pollution control equipment earlier on its remaining coal‑fueled electric generating units. Additionally, the MCV Partnership claims that Consumers improperly characterized certain costs included in the calculation of the fixed energy charge.
In January 2019, an arbitration panel issued an order concluding that the MCV Partnership is not entitled to any damages associated with its claim against Consumers related to the Clean Air Act; the majority of the MCV Partnership’s claim, which estimated damages and interest in excess of $270 million, was related to this dismissed claim. Consumers believes that the MCV Partnership’s remaining claims are without merit, but cannot predict the financial impact or outcome of the matter.
Underwater Cables in Straits of Mackinac: Consumers owns certain underwater electric cables in the Straits of Mackinac, which were de‑energized and retired in 1990. Consumers was notified that some of these cables were damaged as a result of vessel activity in April 2018. Following the notification, Consumers located, inspected, sampled, capped, and returned the damaged retired cables to their original location on the lake bottom, and did not find any substantive evidence of environmental contamination. Consumers is collaborating with the State of Michigan, local Native American tribes, and other stakeholders to evaluate the status of the cables and to determine if any additional action is advisable. Consumers cannot predict the outcome of this matter, but if Consumers is required to remove all the cables, it could incur additional costs of up to $10 million. Consumers filed suit against the companies that own the vessels that allegedly caused the damage and settled that matter. Consumers will seek recovery from customers of any costs incurred.
Consumers Gas Utility Contingencies
Gas Environmental Matters: Consumers expects to incur remediation and other response activity costs at a number of sites under the NREPA. These sites include 23 former MGP facilities. Consumers operated the facilities on these sites for some part of their operating lives. For some of these sites, Consumers has no present ownership interest or may own only a portion of the original site.
At September 30, 2019, Consumers had a recorded liability of $70 million for its remaining obligations for these sites. This amount represents the present value of long‑term projected costs, using a discount rate of 2.57 percent and an inflation rate of 2.5 percent. The undiscounted amount of the remaining obligation is $72 million. Consumers expects to pay the following amounts for remediation and other response activity costs during the remainder of 2019 and in each of the next five years:
Remediation and other response activity costs
Consumers periodically reviews these cost estimates. Any significant change in the underlying assumptions, such as an increase in the number of sites, changes in remediation techniques, or legal and regulatory requirements, could affect Consumers’ estimates of annual response activity costs and the MGP liability.
Pursuant to orders issued by the MPSC, Consumers defers its MGP‑related remediation costs and recovers them from its customers over a ten‑year period. At September 30, 2019, Consumers had a regulatory asset of $132 million related to the MGP sites.
Consumers estimates that its liability to perform remediation and other response activities at NREPA sites other than the MGP sites could reach $3 million. At September 30, 2019, Consumers had a recorded liability of less than $1 million, the minimum amount in the range of its estimated probable liability, as no amount in the range was considered a better estimate than any other amount.
Ray Compressor Station: On January 30, 2019, Consumers experienced a fire at the Ray Compressor Station, which resulted in the Ray Storage Field being off‑line or operating at significantly reduced capacity, which negatively affected Consumers’ natural gas supply and delivery capacity. This incident, which occurred during the extreme polar vortex weather condition, required Consumers to request voluntary reductions in customer load, to implement contingency gas supply purchases, and to implement a curtailment of natural gas deliveries for industrial and large commercial customers pursuant to Consumers’ MPSC curtailment tariff. The curtailment and request for voluntary reductions of customer loads were canceled as of midnight, February 1, 2019. Consumers investigated the cause of the incident, and filed a report on the incident with the MPSC in April 2019. In response, the MPSC issued an order in July 2019, directing Consumers to file additional reports regarding the incident and to include detail of the resulting costs in a future rate proceeding.
As a result of the fire and the resulting curtailment, Consumers could be subject to various claims from impacted customers or claims for damages. Consumers may also be subject to regulatory penalties and disallowances of gas purchased, gas lost, and costs associated with the repairs to the Ray Compressor Station. At this time, Consumers cannot predict the outcome of these matters or other gas-related incidents and a reasonable estimate of any loss cannot be made, but they could have a material adverse effect on Consumers’ results of operations, financial condition, or liquidity, and could subject Consumers’ gas utility to increased regulatory scrutiny.
Consumers Electric and Gas Utility Contingencies
Electric and Gas Staking: In June 2019, the MPSC ordered Consumers to show cause as to why it should not be found in violation of the MISS DIG Act. The MPSC alleges that Consumers violated the law by failing to respond in a timely manner to over 20,000 requests to mark the location of underground facilities in April and May 2019 and only partially responding to others. The law provides the MPSC with discretion in setting fines for violations, if any; however, the fines cannot exceed $5,000 per violation. An order by the MPSC in this proceeding is not expected until mid-2020. Consumers has resolved the backlog of staking requests. Consumers cannot predict the outcome of this matter, but it could be subject to regulatory penalties that have a material adverse effect on Consumers’ results of operations, financial condition, or liquidity, and Consumers could be subject to increased regulatory scrutiny.
Presented in the following table are CMS Energy’s and Consumers’ guarantees at September 30, 2019:
CMS Energy, including Consumers
Indemnity obligations from stock and asset sale agreements1
These obligations arose from stock and asset sale agreements under which CMS Energy or a subsidiary of CMS Energy indemnified the purchaser for losses resulting from various matters, primarily claims related to taxes. CMS Energy believes the likelihood of material loss to be remote for the indemnity obligations not recorded as liabilities.
At Consumers, this obligation comprises a guarantee provided to the U.S. Department of Energy in connection with a settlement agreement regarding damages resulting from the department’s failure to accept spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants formerly owned by Consumers. At CMS Energy, the guarantee obligations comprise Consumers’ guarantee to the U.S. Department of Energy and CMS Energy’s 1994 guarantee of non‑recourse revenue bonds issued by Genesee.
Additionally, in the normal course of business, CMS Energy, Consumers, and certain other subsidiaries of CMS Energy have entered into various agreements containing tax and other indemnity provisions for which they are unable to estimate the maximum potential obligation. The carrying value of these indemnity obligations is $1 million. CMS Energy and Consumers consider the likelihood that they would be required to perform or incur substantial losses related to these indemnities to be remote.
In addition to the matters disclosed in this Note and Note 2, Regulatory Matters, there are certain other lawsuits and administrative proceedings before various courts and governmental agencies, as well as unasserted claims that may result in such proceedings, arising in the ordinary course of business to which CMS Energy, Consumers, and certain other subsidiaries of CMS Energy are parties. These other lawsuits, proceedings, and unasserted claims may involve personal injury, property damage, contracts, environmental matters, federal and state taxes, rates, licensing, employment, and other matters. Further, CMS Energy and Consumers occasionally self‑report certain regulatory non‑compliance matters that may or may not eventually result in administrative proceedings. CMS Energy and Consumers believe that the outcome of any one of these proceedings and potential claims will not have a material negative effect on their consolidated results of operations, financial condition, or liquidity.