Friday, May 11, 2012

Northern Pass and Property Values Near the Existing Right-of-Way

James A. Chalmers's new findings about property value losses near power lines would pertain both to new rights-of-way (ROWs) and to the existing ROW on the proposed Northern Pass route.

As reported this week by Responsible Energy Action LLC (REAL), 2012 research by Northern Pass's appraisal expert, James A. Chalmers, on property values near power lines shows up to a 50% decline in residential areas of a basically rural state, Montana, with sales periods extended from two to five times. These effects are substantially more severe than the "negligible" impact that Northern Pass claims its transmission line would have on New Hampshire.

Chalmers’s new study also looks at large industrial agricultural properties and large remote recreational properties (typically 1,000-5,000 acres or larger).  With rare exception, these do not exist in New Hampshire.  For these properties, because value is driven by a specific, non-residential use, the study finds little or no price impact from the transmission lines, This stands to reason – if you are operating a 5,000 acre farm or hunting preserve for money, and have no ability or plans to subdivide for residential sales, the lines do not affect your future income stream. Indeed, in New Hampshire, even the larger parcels of land, unless restricted by conservation easement, etc., have values driven by the potential for future residential use. 

Since New Hampshire land values are driven by residential and potential residential uses, in this respect Chalmers's 2012 study points the way to what one might expect were Northern Pass ever to be built. Extrapolate to tax abatements and the resulting loss of town tax revenues, and the impact is hardly negligible.

Let's take it a step further. Chalmers does not specifically state this, but assume that his study looks at what happens to residential property values when a power line is built on a new ROW. What happens to residential property values when a power line is built on an existing ROW?

In the case of Northern Pass, the same thing would happen. Here's why.

The conventional answer from power companies (or their consultants) wishing to build lines is that the impact of building a new circuit on an existing ROW would merely be "incremental," i.e., minimal. The assumptions behind this assertion are rarely identified. But here is one explanation that reveals its underlying assumption:

It is important to distinguish between transmission line projects that rebuild or add circuits to an existing corridor and those that create a new right-of- way. Impacts associated with the former are incremental, affecting land uses that have coexisted beside an existing transmission line for years and often decades. On the other hand, transmission line projects constructed within a new right-of-way can have significantly greater socioeconomic consequences. Projects that rebuild a transmission line to a higher voltage or add circuits may require taller structures and additional conductors, increasing the line’s visual footprint and projecting more vertical and horizontal lines upon the landscape, but years of coexistence has usually added extensive vegetation buffers along right-of-way edges, mitigating the impacts on adjacent land uses. (Section 4. 2. 10)

Northern Pass is a project that would add a 345kV "circuit" (line) to an "existing corridor " (ROW) along the 140 mile route from Groveton to Deerfield. It would require substantially "taller structures" (90'-135' and taller towers) than those that currently exist (45'-60'), up to 300% higher. And it would produce more visual blight by projecting "more vertical and horizontal lines upon the landscape." But, contrary to the conventional explanation, the impact of Northern Pass on adjacent residences would not be "mitigated" (hidden) by "extensive vegetation buffers along right-of-way edges."

It's highly questionable if this hypothetical paradigm accurately describes the impact on the existing ROW of even New Hampshire's first HVDC line from Hydro Quebec in the 1980s, but it certainly does not apply to what Northern Pass proposes now. Between Groveton and Deerfield, Northern Pass would remove extensive vegetation buffer within the ROW, in some cases a 75' strip of trees that have been growing for over 65 years. Residences and tourist facilities on the edge of the ROW now buffered by a tree screen within the ROW as deep as 75' would suddenly be exposed to a ROW with two sets of structures, the existing poles and the substantially taller new towers. Even with internal tree screens left intact, Northern Pass's towers would exceed the tallest buffer vegetation and thereby create serious new adverse visual impacts. Northern Pass's clearcutting of the ROW to its fullest width and its significantly taller towers would create new negative impacts on land use, not simply incremental ones.

In terms of its extremely negative visual impacts, Northern Pass would effectively create a new power line from Groveton to Deerfield.

Chalmers's 2012 findings have ominous implications for residential land values and corollary town tax revenue losses along Northern Pass's entire proposed 180-mile transmission line -- both on new ROWs and on the historic, existing ROW. New Hampshire simply cannot afford to allow Northern Pass to be built. .