Friday, April 20, 2012

Why the Free Ride for the Utilities?

Plymouth resident Peter Martin, a member of the No Northern Pass Coalition, is a former commercial airline pilot. In this guest blog, he questions why utility companies get a free ride on rights-ofway.

Why the Free Ride?
Peter Martin

Of all the privileged corporate special interests, it seems that electric transmission companies long ago lapped the field in terms of abusing the public and dodging their fair share of rent and taxes.  All they need is PUC approval and, if they can claim rate based status, they get to use the power of eminent domain.  In many states (though thankfully not in NH), even private, for-profit projects get to use eminent domain taking of other people’s property.

But gaining a right of way (ROW) over other people’s property is just the beginning of the good deal for the power companies.  They are expected to pay fair market value to landowners for the right of passage across their lands; however, that is a one time payment.  They keep the right of way status in apparent perpetuity, but never pay again for the continuing use of the property.  Meanwhile, they continue to depreciate the power line infrastructure, paying ever less in taxes, while the owner of the property on which the ROW is located not only does not financially benefit from the corporate use of his/her land, but is required to pay taxes on the land crossed by the power lines. Over time, the power company pays less and less tax, the landowner pays more and more.

Along with long distance trucking and airlines, the transmission of electrical energy is considered to be interstate commerce by the federal government.  Long haul trucks pay continuing road usage taxes for the privilege of using the public highways.  Airlines pay landing fees every time they touch down at a next destination.  Both trucking and aviation are paying a fair share of the cost to maintain the public’s property.  How about the electric transmission companies?  They don’t pay taxes or rent for the privilege of using public or private property.  Is there any other entity that gets to utilize other people’s property for nothing?  I can’t think of one example.

It is long past time to put an end to such an injustice to both the public in general and to individual landowners.  The best way to right this outrage is for the state to designate public ROW corridors along highways, and other publicly owned property, in which all high voltage lines must be buried.  To use such corridors, the transmission companies will be required to pay annual royalties to the state.  Power companies would finally pay their fair share and, since they will be using a public ROW, they will not have any excuse to ask for the power of eminent domain.

Presently, members of the legislature are investigating the public corridor idea.  We mustn’t let an opportunity to fix this long standing, unfair situation pass us by.  There is no downside to this idea, but there are a number of advantages for the state: money for the state treasury; no destruction of property values, tourist economy or aesthetics; and no excuse to use the power of eminent domain. 

SB 361, which would establish energy infrastructure corridors in NH, will soon come to a full House vote and, if approved, return to the Senate for a vote on the bill and its amendment. Please take the time to call, e-mail or write your house representative and senator and let them know that you want corridor legislation passed ASAP.