Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Northern Pass Opposition Rally 7/13/2014

B - W - O
Northern Pass Opposition Rally
This Sunday, July 13, 2014
3:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Join other Northern Pass Opposition members this Sunday afternoon in Bretton Woods to stand tall for New Hampshire and demand that Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec either build this project right (underground, all the way), or, as Executive Councilor Ray Burton used to say, pack up their tents and go home.
Why now? Why Bretton Woods?
 The New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers will hold their annual meeting at The Mount Washington Hotel on July 14. At last year's meeting, the governors and premiers agreed to create an energy plan and delegated this work to the New England States Committee on Electricity, which came up with the idea of ratepayer funding for one gas pipeline and one transmission line from Canada. There is little question that Northeast Utilities will bid in the NESCOE solicitation this summer for ratepayer funding for Northern Pass, which could open the door to eminent domain for the project.
Bretton Woods is also in the White Mountain National Forest, the "People's Forest," which Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec would despoil for private profit.
Governor Hassan has said that she does not support the project as proposed and does not support eminent domain for Northern Pass. She vows to protect New Hampshire's stunning natural resources.
Let's make sure that all the governors (and the Canadian premiers) understand that we, the public, will not accept the loss of our property rights and that we will not accept a for-profit project that would needlessly scar the New Hampshire landscape forever.  
 This is the right time and right place to stand up for New Hampshire!
What to Wear - What to Bring
 Wear ORANGE! Make a sign or bring a lawn sign or banner - with any message you wish to display. Be prepared to be outside rain or shine. Bring whatever you need to be comfortable - lawn chair, water, etc. (We will be guests on private land - no alcoholic beverages, please.)
Where to Assemble
 An Opposition member is allowing us to use private land (a vacant lot) on Rte. 302 just south of the Rte. 3 junction in Twin Mountain (traffic light) as an assembly point. Pull off at the vacant lot for further instructions. An organizer will be on hand there from 2:30 PM on with signs so you can find it easily.
(Do not park on the roadway or block traffic)
Your chance to speak up for what's right for New Hampshire
This Sunday, July 13, 3 PM - 7 PM
No Eminent Domain for Northern Pass!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

PSNH leads the pack in fighting small towns

Coos: Lancaster Applies To County's Utility Value Defense Fund

Robert Blechl
Staff Writer
Caledonian Record

As utilities appeal their assessments across New Hampshire -- increasing residential property tax rates if they succeed -- Coos County is fighting back with a utility valuation defense fund.
To date, Lancaster, requesting $15,000 from the fund, is one of three Coos towns to apply for financial support in its ongoing fight with several utilities, chief among them FairPoint Communications and Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), said Lancaster Town Manager Ed Samson.
Since the appeals began several years ago, town officials in both Coos and Grafton counties have said the utilities are strategically challenging assessments in those towns that have small legal budgets and lack the money to fight them.
Of the Coos defense fund, Samson said, "I think it's a great opportunity for towns to commit to something long term and save all of these legal expenses."
During the Coos County Commission's May meeting, the commissioners voted to send a letter to all of Coos's municipalities to let them know that money from the fund, created in 2013 and unused until now, is available.
There is now $80,000 in the fund, though that figure is expected to soon be down to about $40,000, said county finance director Carrie Klebe.
During last week's commission meeting, commission chairman Tom Brady, citing an email from state Rep. Robert Theberge, D-Berlin, said the county delegation might consider additional funding if the current level of appropriated funds proves insufficient.

In Lancaster, FairPoint is challenging the tax on its telephone poles, and PSNH, through several years of appeals, is seeking to slash its total assessments for several consecutive tax years by at least half.
In early 2014, a five-year agreement was negotiated between the town of Lancaster and Portland Pipeline that is consistent with the previous year's assessment figures. As a result, that utility did not appeal, said Samson.
But some of the other utilities, such as PSNH, are in their fourth tax year of appeal, he said.
The appeals are often cyclical.
"It's a process that goes on for years and ultimately there is some settlement, usually somewhere in the middle," said Samson. "But the town of Lancaster is currently spending about $55,000 a year, and we haven't even gone to trial yet."
Some utilities, like PSNH, are trying to use the assessed utility values from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration, which employs the state's utility property tax statute that sets the utilities' contribution to the state education tax.
Towns, however, argue that formula is used for one purpose only, does not reflect a true utility property value and the utilities are misusing it in an attempt to drive their assessments below fair market value.
"The utilities hang their hats on the DRA's assessed values, which are significantly lower than other assessors," said Samson. "They've proven in other court hearings the DRA values are not valid. I'm assuming the same is going to happen again."
To date, at the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA), PSNH has a total of 87 appeals against 56 of New Hampshire's 234 municipalities, almost all of them small towns.
In Lancaster for the 2011 tax year, PSNH is seeking to cut its assessment from $7.38 million to $3 million, according to that appeal.
In Whitefield, for tax year 2011, PSNH seeks to reduce its taxable real estate from $12.9 million to $5 million, according to that appeal.
In Dalton for 2011, PSNH seeks to cut a $3.7 million assessment to $1.2 million.
In order to protect the towns, Samson said he feels the New Hampshire legislature needs to intervene and determine the true market values.
"Wires are wires and pole are poles," he said. "They should mandate the DRA to go with a realistic value."
On Monday, representatives for PSNH declined to say if it they feel the DRA values represent a true market value of PSNH properties.
"On behalf of our customers, and as a regulated utility, we have a duty to dispute those valuations made by communities that are extreme outliers compared to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue's assessment of the value of our assets," said PSNH spokesman Mike Skelton.
A community's size or location is not part of the criteria in determining which assessments will be challenged, said Skelton, and PSNH is consistent in its approach to ensuring it pays its fair share of taxes on behalf of its customers.
Samson called the appeals by FairPoint, which is suing more than 100 municipalities in superior court, "new waters."
FairPoint and other telecommunications companies with telephone poles had been given a long-term agreement by the state that prohibited municipalities from taxing their poles and conduits.
That agreement recently expired, however, and municipalities decided the poles and conduits were taxable and began taxing them, said Samson. "Somewhere, we will come up with a realistic number for them," he said.
On Monday, FairPoint spokesman Jeff Nevins said when the legislation to tax poles was proposed, FairPoint and a coalition of telecommunications providers challenged it, asserting that FairPoint and other telecommunications companies were already taxed equitably.
During the legislative hearings, FairPoint cautioned that without clearly defined methodology to determine pole and conduit valuations, there would be huge variations in the municipal tax assessments and telecommunications companies would be forced to challenge the assessments in court, he said.
"That warning quickly became a reality as FairPoint started receiving dozens of new tax bills with a 200-percent swing in some valuation," said Nevins. "The company is challenging those valuations, requesting abatements and calling on towns to review their assessment practices."
During last week's commission meeting, county treasurer Fred King asked why the county is not suing on behalf of all its towns.
Commission vice-chairman Paul Grenier said because the DRA is going through the BTLA by each community, the communities cannot unite as one. Therefore a class action lawsuit is not an option.
In recent years, in addition to PSNH and FairPoint, North Country towns have seen utility property appeals by TDS Telecom, Dunbarton Telephone Co., Granite State Telephone Co., Great-Lakes Hydro, Northern Utilities, TransCanada, Unitil, EnergyNorth, New England Hydro Transmission, Granite State Gas Transmission Co., and New England Electric Transmission Corp.
Some appeals have been resolved and others remain ongoing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Northern Pass still breeds deep suspicion

Littleton: Residents Suspicious Of National Grid Proposal

Robert Blechl
Staff Writer
Caledonian Record
April 11, 2014

LITTLETON, N.H. -- More than three years after the Northern Pass Transmission line proposal went public, suspicions about the controversial project run just as deep.

This week, National Grid's proposal to build a small transmission line in Littleton went to a public hearing, where several area residents asked for additional assurances the line does not in any way relate to the Northern Pass line.

Summarizing questions submitted by several residents, New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) Chairman Thomas Burack asked National Grid project manager Patrick Quigley, "Does this project have any connection in any way, shape or form to Northern Pass?"

"None whatsoever," said Quigley, who added the National Grid line would be built even if Northern Pass was not built.

Although National Grid's Feb. 7 application to SEC states that the project is not associated with Northern Pass, some residents wanted more assurance, including Easton resident Kris Pastoriza, who asked if National Grid would make a written statement, something legally enforceable, that the line is not related in any way to Northern Pass.

"I don't know what else we can say beyond tonight," said National Grid attorney Barry Needleman, who told SEC members that he doesn't believe the company is legally required to provide a written statement.

Needleman said there is no connection between the two projects and said National Grid representatives are prepared at the appropriate time to state that under oath.

Monday's hearing before the SEC, at the Littleton Opera House, comes after two hearings in 2013, when National Grid went before the Littleton Zoning Board to inform the town about its plan to construct a new 230-kilovolt tap transmission line.

That line would extend from National Grid's existing 6.6-mile transmission line - connecting the Comerford and Moore dams - to the Public Service of New Hampshire substation at 266 Foster Hill Road.

In its application, National Grid states the purpose of the line is to provide power to a second auto-transformer in the Littleton substation that PSNH will install in order to address New Hampshire and Vermont reliability needs identified by ISO-New England, which oversees the operations of New England's transmission lines and bulk electric power system.

The proposed line would stretch a total two-tenths of a mile and consist of four wood pole transmission structures that would include a 35-foot structure, two H-frame suspension structures at 70 and 80 feet, respectively, and one 80-foot H-frame dead-end structure.

SEC member Amy Ignatius asked Needleman if he would agree that if National Grid proposed an amendment to its plan, such as redesigning the AC line to carry DC current, or if it wanted to transfer ownership to PSNH it would have to again come before SEC.

"I agree with that," said Needleman.

PSNH and Northern Pass are subsidiaries of Northeast Utilities.

Addressing SEC members, Littleton psychologist and 2012 New Hampshire Senate candidate Debi Warner said, "If you approve this, I ask you to state it is not to be converted and not to be used for Northern Pass."

In its application, National Grid states it owns all the existing electric facilities within its transmission right-of-way in Littleton and will be the owner of the proposed line.

The existing tap right-of-way is about 450 feet wide and would be widened through tree clearing by an additional 135 feet to accommodate the new line, according to the application. The project would impact a total of 64 square feet of wetlands.

National Grid, asking SEC to expedite its review of the project, said its plan is to begin construction in September and complete it by December