Wednesday, August 3, 2016

An Icy Glare from Northern Pass

Coos County Democrat
August 3, 2016
Editorial
An icy glare from Northern Pass
 
In May, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services issued a letter about Northern Pass. DES appeared to suggest that the 192-mile hydropower transmission project needed to do more to minimize construction impacts on wetlands and other sensitive areas. The regulator's letter pointed toward the desirability of a new route and more line burial in Coös County. Although DES was not making official conclusions against issuance of needed permits, Northern Pass must have felt some doubts about the viability of the project's preferred route. With a recent response to DES, however, the project gave an icy glare to a regulatory entity.

This editor must give some credit to Northern Pass. The project's financial backers have already spent a great deal of money examining the project's impacts on wetlands. In public hearings and letters, some critics of Northern Pass concede the the project's wetlands analysis was well done. Northern Pass is not just going through the motions on the application process. There seems to be a legitimate interest in decreasing certain wetlands impacts while promoting the state fund that provides money to protect wetlands in other parts of the state.

However, the project may not have made the best decisions in the recent response to DES. Instead of really detailing the project's commitment to lessening impacts on the environment, Northern Pass stressed how the state cannot push back too hard. By doing so, Northern Pass suggested time and again, the big money making dream that is the proposed transmission line might not happen. The DES ideas on further line burial to protect more wetlands "is not practicable," Northern Pass brazenly asserted.

The state's Site Evaluation Committee, which will make the call on whether the project receives a construction permit, should be watching the Northern Pass wetlands debate quite closely. As the project keeps its eye on the prize, earning billions of dollars over the next few decades, the SEC needs to remember who the big money maker from Northern Pass will be, Hydro Quebec. The company, as this editor likes to say over and over again, makes $370,000 of profit every hour. Regardless of what Northern Pass wants state regulators to believe, Hydro Quebec has plenty of money to fully bury the project in a way that satisfies New Hampshire. The extra $1 billion to achieve complete burial might make Northern Pass "uneconomic" to those whose first desire is to placate a foreign monopoly like Hydro Quebec. But the project needs to remember that regulators must be satisfied with how issues like wetlands impact are resolved.

The late Ray Burton inspired us in so many ways. Perhaps his finest hour occurred during testimony at Northern Pass hearings. Burton said Hydro Quebec needs to find the money to fully bury the line, or fold its tent and go home. Anyone examining Hydro Quebec's financial statements can see the money is there. Just because the company does not want to spend four months of profit to make New Hampshire happy does not mean state regulators must fall into line. DES, the SEC, and all other state entities with a dog in the Northern Pass fight must remember that they work for us, not the shareholders of a foreign government. Northern Pass will place Hydro Quebec's financial well being at the forefront, but there is no reason for regulators to cower before the mighty monopoly. The residents of the North Country certainly are not doing so.
 
 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

CFP's August 9th meeting on NPT for Town Conservation Commissions




 

New Hampshire Association

of Conservation Commissions


SERVING NEW HAMPSHIRE’S COMMUNITIES SINCE 1970

54 Portsmouth Street, Concord, NH 03301 | (603) 224-7867 |

 

Date: July 19, 2016

To: Conservation Commission Members affected by Northern Pass proposal

Subject: Meeting with Counsel for the Public, Peter Roth and Associates

When: Tuesday, August 9, 6 pm at Conservation Center, 54 Portsmouth St. Concord

Re: Northern Pass Proposal before the NH Site Evaluation Committee (SEC)

From: Barbara Richter, Executive Director, New Hampshire Association of Conservation Commissions

_______________________________________________________________

As you know, the Northern Pass transmission line proposal (SEC Docket #2015-06) is

currently under review by the NH Site Evaluation Committee. This process is governed by

NH RSA 162-H and Administrative Rules # Site 100- Site 300. RSA 162-H:9 provides for a

Counsel for the Public with the duty to “represent the public in seeking to protect the quality

of the environment and in seeking to assure an adequate supply of energy.” Peter Roth is

currently the Counsel for the Public.

Mr. Roth has asked our office to assist him to organize a meeting of conservation commission

members in affected communities along the proposed route. Given that the proposed

transmission line would cover 192 miles within the state, the logistics of such a meeting will

be cumbersome at best.

 While the NHACC Board of Directors voted not to take a position on the Northern Pass

proposal, we do recognize the need for information exchange, especially with the Counsel for

the Public who is responsible for representing the public interest before the SEC. We have

agreed to assist him in this effort. Conservation commissions have unique knowledge about

the natural resources, protections, ordinances and special circumstances within your

communities. This meeting will provide an opportunity to share this vital information with

Mr. Roth who will review this information with his experts to better represent the public

interest before the Site Evaluation Committee.

We will be able to use meeting space here at the Forest Society’s Conservation Center and we

realize that not everyone is able to attend at this time. For those with timing or distance

constraints, we could work with you to either call or video chat into the meeting.

Please let me know whether you will be able to attend this meeting.

Also, since information is key, could you please provide copies of your town’s conservation

plan, natural resource inventory or other pertinent reports you have in either electronic or

hard copy format directly to me either via e-mail or hard copies so we may coordinate it and

get the information to Mr. Roth in advance of the meeting.
_______________________________________________________________
NHACC contact info: http://www.nhacc.org/contact/

Monday, June 6, 2016

Small North Country Towns In Crux Of State Tax Fight With Big Implications

Small North Country Towns In Crux Of State Tax Fight With Big Implications              

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
June 6, 2016
                                          
                               
Municipalities  across N.H., including many in the North Country, are finding  themselves at the center of a tax dispute that has put state agencies at  odds and could impact how utility property in the state is assessed in  the future.

At stake for small towns are millions of dollars in tax revenue.

On  Wednesday, an attorney representing several of the towns, including  Littleton, wrote the N.H. Supreme Court with concerns about the N.H.  attorney general’s intent to file an amicus, or friend of the court,  brief for what she said would be on behalf of the N.H. Department of  Revenue Administration and in support of the tax abatement appeals of  the two utilities against scores of municipalities.
        
In March, attorneys for towns being sued  by Eversource Energy and the N.H. Electric Cooperative learned the  attorney general’s office would be getting involved in the case that  went to the N.H. Supreme Court after the two utilities appealed a July  2015 decision by the N.H. Board of Tax and Land Appeals that casts doubt  on their appraisal methodology.

For  their local utility property assessments, Eversource and NHEC seek to  use the DRA’s 83-F formula, the unit method of valuation that sets the  utilities’ share of the statewide property tax, specifically their  contribution to the state education tax.

Through  the DRA formula, the two utilities seek to cut their local utility  assessments, and property taxes, by one-half to two-thirds.

The  municipalities, however, argue the DRA method is for a different tax  and does not reflect the true market value of the utility properties,  but Eversource and NHEC are still trying to use it to drive their  assessments below fair market value.

In  its decision, the BTLA agreed with the towns and concluded the  appraisals provided by NHEC and Eversource - that include the DRA  utility appraisals - do “not result in credible opinions of market  value.”

In her Wednesday motion  to the state’s high court, Whitelaw argues the DRA should not be  allowed to use a N.H. Supreme Court rule exception to file a brief in  the case to respond to the BTLA decision regarding DRA procedures or  address its “notion of the potential political impact the decision may  have on the DRA’s own statutory responsibilities and/or the  municipalities’ decisions to utilize the DRA reports for local assessing  purposes.”

Whitelaw said the  DRA’s apparent interest is to counter the BTLA decision “in an effort to  rehabilitate itself and its employee in the eyes of the public; this is  not an appropriate use of an amicus brief and is a waste of the court’s  and the parties’ time and resources.”

DRA  utility appraiser Scott Dickman has testified against the towns’ direct  interest in the litigation, she said, and “the DRA is now deliberately  inserting itself into the appeal for the stated reason that the BTLA’s  decision was less than flattering of Mr. Dickman’s testimony and the  DRA’s procedures.”

The DRA is  statutorily charged with establishing equalization ratios used for both  county and local taxation purposes, and the agency provides assessing  assistance to municipalities and works with them to set their tax rates.

Whitelaw said, “The Legislature did not intend for the relationship between the municipalities and the DRA to be adversarial.”

About  one-third of N.H. municipalities use the DRA’s utility valuation for  local property assessments instead of retaining their own appraiser.

While  the case began as a tax abatement fight between towns and the two  utilities, DRA representatives have since expressed concerns about the  impact a court decision could have on the validity of the DRA  equalization process for the roughly 30 to 35 percent of N.H.  municipalities that use the DRA method.

In  March, Whitelaw wrote N.H. Attorney General Joseph Foster to express  concerns that the NHAG involvement is tantamount to the NHAG joining the  utilities’ efforts to overturn the BTLA’s decisions in 109 tax  abatement appeals, many first filed in 2011 and 2012 and each year  thereafter.
        
For the past four years, many towns,  some having spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting the lawsuits and  hiring appraisal experts, argue the case is about tax fairness.

Utility  properties in many small towns make up a large chunk of the towns’ tax  base, and to the extent the utilities are successful in their tax  abatement appeals, it will increase the taxes of other taxpayers. In  some smaller towns, such as Landaff, utility property is essentially the  only commercial property.

In Littleton alone, Eversource is seeking to reduce its total assessment of about $22 million to $11 million.

Eversource  is suing about one-third of N.H.’s municipalities, most small towns and  many in the North Country, including Littleton, Bath, Haverhill,  Lancaster, Dalton, Northumberland, Whitefield, Landaff, Stark,  Stratford, and Stewartstown.

NHEC’s  tax abatement appeals, filed at both the BTLA and superior court, are  against towns that include Bath, Colebrook, Haverhill, Landaff,  Littleton, and Monroe.

Stephan  Hamilton, director of the DRA’s Municipal and Property Division, has  declined to talk about the case as has NHAG Assistant Attorney General  Laura Lombardi, who is representing the DRA.

Oral arguments before the N.H. Supreme Court could be heard in early 2017.