Monday, October 27, 2014

4-Years-Strong Northern Pass Opposition Vows to Continue "4 As Long As It Takes"

October 27, 2014
Franconia, N.H. -- The grassroots Opposition met in Franconia on Sunday for an evening of shared reflection and continued commitment to protect New Hampshire against the ill-advised Northern Pass project that would entail installation of approximately 2300 steel towers from Pittsburg to Deerfield ranging from 80' to 155' tall. The event was occasioned by the fourth anniversary of the public announcement of the project in Franklin in October, 2010.
Mid-point of the approximately 187-mile proposed route, Franconia was chosen as the location for the catered dinner at Chef Joe's Bistro, which hosted the "Bury-Northern-Pass-All Of It!" signs from the July 2014 protest at Bretton Woods. The event sold out early. The grassroots Opposition from Colebrook to Deerfield attended. Members of  the NH Senate, House, County Commissions, and town select boards joined the group, as did candidates for various political positions.
After-dinner speakers included officials from the Forest Society, who reiterated President/Forester Jane Difley's recent pledge that the 114 year-old organization will defend their conservation victories in court, if it ever comes to that. "We own the dirt," Difley said, " and we don't intend to invite Northern Pass to play in it." Grassroots Opposition members shared sad news of the devastating effects the mere prospect of the proposed Northern Pass has already had on economic and real estate development. On a brighter note, the cheapest form of energy - conservation and efficiency - was promoted, as well as the upcoming Solar Forum in Bethlehem (November 12). Indian Stream Film producers Jan Marvel and Michelle Vaughan announced completion of the French language version of their Northern Pass documentary, Northern Trespass, for Quebec audiences. The French title is L'intrusion du Nord; copies are available now from the producers and will soon be for sale online. The next screening of the English language version of the documentary is on January 24, 2015 in Lincoln.
One Opposition member summed up the evening: "It was nice to see the gang together again, and it will keep us all moving forward with renewed energy." 4 As Long As It Takes!




Sunday, October 19, 2014

North Country Towns Incur Big Expense Fighting Big Utilities

Following is Robert Blechl's third article on this subject. Read the first and second articles here. 

North Country: Towns Incurring Big Expense Fighting Big Utilities

Robert Blechl
Staff Writer
Caledonian Record

Legal expenses in the tens of thousands of dollars are mounting for small towns across the North Country in their fight against big utilities, whose tax appeal lawsuits, some in their fourth year, are now dragging into 2015.

"It's an ongoing situation and is not unique to Haverhill," Haverhill Town Manager Glenn English said this week. "Their strategy is to outspend us, but the towns have wisely banded together."

Towns, some sharing legal expenses, argue the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration's 83-F formula that sets the utilities' contribution to the state education tax does not reflect a true market value but utilities such as the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) and Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) are still trying to use it in an attempt to drive their properties below fair market value.

The issue that involves a N.H. Supreme Court case and the state's formula on utility property assessment is a complicated one. If the utilities are successful, it could set a new legal precedent regarding valuation of their properties and could mean a spike in residential taxes as small towns adjust to make up the difference of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue.

In 2011 in Grafton Superior Court, NHEC filed tax abatement appeals against several Grafton towns, including Haverhill, where it seeks to slash by two-thirds several years of assessments averaging $2.3 million.

That case, after a status conference last week, has been continued into 2015.

In its fight against NHEC, Haverhill, since March 2012, has accumulated a total of $25,923 in legal fees and $36,954 in assessing fees, said English.

"We tried mediation in the summer, but that didn't work so it's going to trial," he said.

NHEC spokesman Seth Wheeler said, "NHEC has brought these appeals because it believes that its assessments in particular communities are well above the market value of its property and results in its members across the state being asked to pay more than their fair share of the tax burden in these communities."

Wheeler said NHEC seeks to pay its fair share of taxes and there is an ongoing effort to reach a fair agreement with a handful of towns.

NHEC is appealing assessments in both superior court and at the N.H. Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA), and has filed tax appeals against 37 towns at the BTLA.

PSNH, sharing the same attorney as NHEC, is also trying its luck at the BTLA, where it has filed a total of 87 appeals against 56, or about 25 percent, of New Hampshire's 234 municipalities. Most are small towns and many are in the North Country.

The first batch of PSNH appeals at the BTLA are expected to be heard in January, and PSNH appeals for 2013 have also been filed, to be heard at a later date.

English said there are two methods a town can use for utility property assessment - the unit method employed by the DRA and the assessor method.

"I think our lawsuit has a lot to do with which method is going to continue," he said.

In 1994, in a superior court case called PSNH v. Bow, the N.H. Supreme Court affirmed a trial court's ruling that rejected the unit method in determining fair market value of PSNH property.

According to the high court, "The trial court found that 'the unit method as proposed by PSNH is neither reliable nor appropriate for purposes of ad valorem property taxation of regulated utility property' ... We sustain the rulings and findings of the trial court ..."

In an Aug. 20 order on the NHEC case, however, Grafton Superior Court Judge Lawrence MacLeod wrote, "The issue before this court is whether evidence regarding unit method valuation of NHEC property is even admissible at trial; not whether the unit method is the more reliable valuation method ..."

PSNH, seeking to use the unit method, has appealed against the North Country towns of Bath, Dalton, Gorham, Haverhill, Landaff, Lincoln, Littleton, Plymouth, Randolph, Stark, Stewartstown and Whitefield as well as Lancaster, which is currently spending about $55,000 annually fighting appeals by several utilities, with no case having yet gone to trial.

In Lancaster for the 2011 tax year, PSNH is seeking to cut its assessment from $7.38 million to $3 million.

In Littleton, PSNH, for tax year 2012, seeks to cut its assessment in half, from $21.9 million to $11.3 million.

In Whitefield, for tax year 2011, PSNH seeks to reduce its taxable real estate from $12.9 million to $5 million.

In Dalton for 2011, PSNH seeks to cut a $3.7 million assessment to $1.2 million.

PSNH has stated it has a duty to dispute those valuations made by communities that are "extreme outliers" compared to the DRA's assessment of the value of its assets, but has declined to provide the math it uses to determine what it considers an extreme outlier.

Meanwhile, more tax appeals are being filed, including another against Haverhill, which in September was notified of an appeal by New England Hydro Transmission.

Not all utilities that file appeals seek to use the DRA's unit method.

In recent years, North Country towns have seen utility property appeals - some resolved, others ongoing - by FairPoint Communications, TDS Telecom, Dunbarton Telephone Co., Granite State Telephone Co., Great-Lakes Hydro, Northern Utilities, TransCanada, Unitil, EnergyNorth, Granite State Gas Transmission Co., and New England Electric Transmission Corp.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Northern Pass and eminent domain: on the record

As the time for deciding the fate of HB 648 drew near in 2011, PSNH increasingly stressed that NPT did not plan to use eminent domain, anticipated no need for it, etc.

However, NPT's statements of record on the matter told a different story. Three such statements occur in the Transmission Service Agreement filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December 2010. All three leave the door open for eminent domain proceedings, and the last outright predicts its use.

Statement #1:

In addition, the expansion of existing ROW, and the acquisition of approximately 50 miles of new ROW may, as a last resort, trigger the need to exercise the power of eminent domain in order to achieve that expansion and acquisition.

Statement #2:

Additional delays in the already lengthy and complex process of siting a line can result from public opposition where new ROW needs to be acquired. If a negotiated settlement for property acquisition cannot be reached, eminent domain proceedings may be necessary.

Statement #3:

Approvals needed from the NH PUC

Approval of Owner's condemnation of all land rights needed to
create transmission right-of-way and to acquire other properties
necessary to construct, operate and maintain the project facilities
(post-siting approvals) (NH RSA § 371:1)


Monday, September 29, 2014

SOLD OUT! - Four Years Strong! Northern Pass Opposition Dinner, Oct. 26, 2014

Four Years Strong!
Northern Pass Opposition Celebration and Solidarity Dinner - October 26, 2014
In October, it will be four years since Northern Pass announced its ill-advised project to the public and filed a Presidential Permit application.
In honor of four years of solidarity and successful resistance, a catered buffet dinner* will be held at Chef Joe's Bistro in Franconia on Sunday, October 26. All Opposition members are welcome!
Cost: $25.00 per person (tax and gratuity included), pre-paid by credit card, non-refundable.
Cash bar 5:30-6:00 PM
Buffet dinner: 6:00 PM
Location: Chef Joe's Bistro, 651 Main Street, Franconia NH 03580 (use I93 Exit 38)
You must reserve your place in advance with Chef Joe (Nancy and Joe Peterson). Reservations may be made, with a non-refundable payment via credit card, up until Tuesday, October 21. Walk-ins cannot be accommodated.

Reservation phone number is 823-8589, Wed. - Sun. Please do not leave a message if no one is there. Call back later.
Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis.
Call Chef Joe at 823-8589 and reserve your place now to join with other Opposition members and celebrate Four Years Strong!
Event organizer: Martha Richards
*There will be a meat and a vegetarian entrée.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ayotte: Bury it all along state roads - "We're worth it."

Press and social media coverage of U. S. Senator Kelly Ayotte's hike in the White Mountain National Forest along the proposed Northern Pass route, August 28, 2014.

At the crossing of Reel Brook Trail and proposed Northern Pass route, Easton, Senator Ayotte
is briefed by officials of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Forest Society, Easton Select Board
and Conservation Commission (Twitter photos)

At the Reel Brook Crossing in Easton
From "News From Senator Ayotte's Office," August 29, 2014

Ayotte: All Of Northern Pass Should Be Buried

Robert Blechl
Staff Writer
Caledonian Record

EASTON, N.H. -- Coming off a hike to the Kinsman Ridge, near where Northern Pass towers would go, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, issued her strongest position to date on the line - that all of it should be buried, along highway corridors.

"My concern is that a big part of New Hampshire and its natural beauty are being jeopardized by the height of the towers," Ayotte said Thursday afternoon to a group of more than a dozen at Easton Town Hall.

The Northern Pass hydroelectric transmission line proposes 180 miles of steel towers about 100 feet high, a portion of which would pass through Easton and the White Mountain National Forest.

Ayotte underscored the concerns of thousands of residents across the state about devaluation of properties near the line, scarring of the natural landscape, and a negative impact on the tourist industry.

"This is about all of us," she said. "It's not just the North Country."

As examples that burial can be done with existing technology, she pointed to other transmission line projects, such as the Champlain-Hudson Power Express in Vermont - initially proposed as an overhead line before aesthetic and other concerns arose - that will include more than 130 miles of line buried along transportation corridors.

"My view is that's what should be done here, but right now we have not seen that alternative produced," said Ayotte.

Northern Pass, a subsidiary of Northeast Utilities, is proposing its line mostly along the existing Public Service of New Hampshire right-of-way, a route that, according to federal filings, would generate about $10 billion in known revenue for NU during the 40-year term of the line.

But if the Champlain Valley is worth line burial, so is the North Country and New Hampshire, she said.

Of New Hampshire's mountains and landscape, she said, "It's a big part of our economy and who we are."

"It's a great resource we all enjoy and has been a great driver of economic strength," said Ayotte, pointing to the millions of tourists who flock annually to the region.

She said Thursday's hike, with members of the Easton Conservation Commission, gave her the opportunity to see the potential impact.

If the Canadian hydro-power is to be imported, Ayotte said I-91 in Vermont or I-93 in New Hampshire should be studied in earnest.

In attendance Thursday were state Rep. Sue Ford, D-Easton, and Andy Smith, owner-broker of Peabody and Smith Reality.

Smith said local properties near where the line would go are already seeing a detrimental impact to their value. He also called northern New Hampshire's unspoiled beauty a legacy.

"This is not just a local issue," said Smith. "It's a New Hampshire problem and a New Hampshire legacy we would not get back."

Ford said a recent law has changed the process of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, the state permitting agency for energy projects that must now have two members from the public.

Next legislative session, a bill will be written to create an energy corridor along highways, she said.

For Northern Pass to go through, it must obtain many permits, chief among them a Presidential Permit from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is currently putting together an Environmental Impact Study on the project.

On Aug. 18, the New Hampshire Delegation to Washington D.C., which includes Ayotte, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and U.S. Democratic Reps. Ann Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, wrote to the DOE about its scoping report alternatives addendum issued May 1.

To the agency, the delegates said there are two key elements that were not part of the addendum that warrant consideration and study.

"Specifically, the report does not call for a comprehensive study of the burial of transmission lines along existing highway corridors, nor does it consider a second international crossing other than the crossing at Hall's Stream in Pittsburg," they said. "These two alternatives were not included in the addendum despite the large number of public comments at the scoping hearings requesting investigation into the possibility of these two options."

As senator, Ayotte said she will push DOE to be more transparent and open and also push for a thorough study of entire line burial along transportation corridors.

"This is how the project should be done if it is to go forward," Ayotte said at the Easton gathering. "We're worth it."

Sen. Ayotte addresses group at the Easton Town Hall after hiking the proposed
Northern Pass route on the Reel Brook Trail in Easton/WMNF (BNP photo)

Ayotte says Northern Pass lines should be buried beneath roads
John Koziol
Union Leader
August 28, 2014

To get a first-hand perspective of where in Easton the proposed Northern Pass transmission project would go, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte took a hike in the Gingerbread Road area of Easton Thursday and then told a group of pass opponents at Easton Town Hall that the entire transmission line should be buried beneath state roads. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)
EASTON — Citing a precedent in New York and echoing a recommendation by the town’s Conservation Commission, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on Thursday said the Northern Pass transmission project should be entirely buried beneath New Hampshire’s roads.

Appearing at Easton Town Hall Thursday afternoon, just minutes after having hiked through the Gingerbread Road area to get a closer look at how Northern Pass would affect this town of 270 people, Ayotte said the beauty of the White Mountains should and could be preserved and that the Northern Pass could proceed if the transmission lines were buried “along an existing highway corridor.”

That point, as well as a suggestion that Northern Pass consider a second international crossing other than that at Hall’s Stream in Pittsburg, was made in an Aug. 18 letter from Ayotte and the rest of the state’s Congressional delegation to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Northern Pass would bring hydroelectricity from Quebec into the U.S. along a 187-mile long line in New Hampshire. Northeast Utilities, the corporate parent of Public Service of New Hampshire and Northern Pass Transmission LLC, has an agreement with HydroQuebec for it to lease the Northern Pass transmission lines.

Proponents say the $1.4 billion project will create 1,200 construction jobs, put 1,200 megawatts of renewable electricity into the New England power grid, and, over its 40-year life, will generate some $1 billion in new municipal property tax revenues in New Hampshire.

Opponents of Northern Pass have criticized its intrusion into and despoilment of the North Country, both esthetically and economically.

A presidential permit is needed to allow Canadian power to come into the U.S. and the review process also involves the Department of Defense and the Secretary of State, both of which, Ayotte explained, typically defer to the DOE in energy-transmission cases.

Ned Cutler, who chairs Easton’s Board of Selectmen, said that in 2012 the Town Meeting voted unanimously to say it opposed Northern Pass unless it was buried underground. He said yesterday that several property owners have already asked the selectmen how to get abatements because they expected a drop in the assessed values of their properties should Northern Pass go through town above ground.

In 2013, the Easton Conservation Commission took upon itself the task of finding an alternative route for Northern Pass through town and last November it came up with a recommendation that sounded a lot like Ayotte’s on Thursday: bury Northern Pass along the Interstate 93 corridor between Bethlehem and Woodstock, thereby entirely avoiding Easton and the White Mountain National Forest in which it sits.

The bury-it-under-the-road approach gained traction earlier this month when the DOE, in reviewing the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express, which would bring power from Canada to the New York Metro Area, said burying 141 miles of the 336-miles of transmission lines under existing highways would be a good idea.

Both Cutler and Conservation Commission Chair Roy Stever said they’d like to see Ayotte push for burying Northern Pass and Ayotte said she would.

The technology exists to bury the transmission lines, Ayotte said, adding that the Easton Conservation Commission recognized that fact as did the DOE with the Champlain Hudson Power Express project.

What the conservation commission proposed just in Easton should be done down the entire length of Northern Pass, said Ayotte, and the DOE should require Northern Pass to study it, and then, ultimately, it should do it.

“We’re worth it,” said Ayotte, noting that the New York transmission project was also intended to run above ground, but didn’t.

After a burst of polite applause died down, Ayotte continued that “This is obviously a very important issue to the Town of Easton and the state.”

“This is about all of us,” she said, “not just the North Country.”

Senator Ayotte talks with residents of Gingerbread Village, Easton, which would be severely
affected by proposed Northern Pass towers (Twitter photo)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Voter Guide to NH State Senate Primaries (Sept. 9, 2014)

Recent Published Statements on Northern Pass by Candidates in Primary Races for NH State Senate, September 9, 2014*
(For incumbents, "yea" or "nay" vote on HB569, "burial bill," 5/15/2014, is noted)
District 1. Republican Mark Evans v. Dolly McPhaul (write-in). Jeff Woodburn (D) incumbent.
- Mark Evans, Berlin, Republican [listed candidate, Republican primary, Sept. 9]
Northern Pass in its current form will place a scar on the land we depend on, harm our economy, and offer virtually nothing in return. As your next Senator I will oppose this project.
- Dolly McPhaul, Sugar Hill, Republican [write-in candidate, Republican primary, Sept. 9]
I am absolutely opposed to the Northern Pass, but will compromise and accept TOTAL burial. Total burial only... NO partial burial. That is the extent to which I will compromise; partial burial is not an option. Burial should be along existing roadways and railroad beds with the New Hampshire state government earning the lease money revenues.
There is no reason the good people of New Hampshire should have to sacrifice, in any way, to enable Public Service of New Hampshire and Northeast Utilities an increase in revenue. Property value loss has already affected many landowners. Tower and transmission line placement next to many buildings, including the Profile Junior Senior High School in Bethlehem, NH is a potentially horrifying health hazard our children and teachers should not have to endure. The loss of tourism and second homeowners has the possibility of destroying our already fragile economy. Our spectacular natural beauty must not be sacrificed for any reason, especially for a company whose only goal is increased profits. We must protect our beauty for the generations to come.
The Northern Pass is a unnecessary transmission line project that offers no real benefit to New Hampshire. It must be stopped.
 - Jeff Woodburn, Dalton, Democrat, incumbent, elected in 2012 [yea on 569]
I’m against the proposed Northern Pass. I’ve been a leader in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and in the North Country personalizing this issue for state leaders.  I sponsored and/or co-sponsored all the anti-Northern Pass legislation introduced during the 2013-14 legislative session.  I have said again and again -- that for this project to win the support of the people it must provide a local say and a local benefit. To date, PSNH has fallen short on both counts. I have encouraged PSNH to present a reasonable proposal that protects our beautiful, inspiring landscapes and provides tangible benefits to our struggling communities and working families.   This is the ideal and will continue to guide my votes on these matters.  I promised the people to work with everyone, be practical, independent and get things done for the North Country. That’s what I’ve done and that’s what I’ll continue to do.
Source: Sugar Hill Tower Opponents survey.

Senator Woodburn, Guest Commentary ("North Country Energy Challenges"), July 18, 2014.

Senator Woodburn, Colebrook Chronicle interview on Northern Pass, August 15, 2014.

Dolly McPhaul, Caledonian Record interview, August 25, 2014.
District 2. Republican  Jeanie Forrester (incumbent; yea on 569) v. Tim Condon

"Forrester, an early opponent of the Northern Pass, fought the project for years over its efforts to employ eminent domain, and remains strongly opposed, calling it 'effectively a big extension cord going through New Hampshire to go to Connecticut and Massachusetts.'

"Condon, on the other hand, has indicated that he backs the project, which calls for running new transmission lines through northern New Hampshire in order to carry Canadian hydropower to southern New England.

“'Energy is the lifeblood of a modern economy,' he wrote in a 2011 blog post about Northern Pass."


District 8. Republican Jerry Little v. J.P. Marzullo

District 11. Republican Garry Daniels v. Daniel Dwyer v. Dan Hynes v. Maureen Mooney

District 12. Republican Kevin Avard v. Michael McCarthy

District 15. Democratic   Dan Feltes v. Kass Ardinger

Feltes: “I think that (Gov. Maggie Hassan) has said something that is prudent, which is that it is still possible to get reliable hydropower from Quebec without sacrificing our tourism industry and without sacrificing our natural beauty.”
Ardinger: “We have an over-reliance on one source of energy, which is natural gas. We experienced the price spikes last winter. That will only continue if we don’t diversify the source of electricity that goes into the New England grid.

James Pindell interviews Kass Ardinger (Northern Pass comments start at 05:50).

District 16. Republican  David Boutin (incumbent; nay on 569) v. Jane Cormier

Boutin did not answer  LFDA Question 8: "Do you support or oppose the Northern Pass project?"

District 18. Republican  Robyn N. Dunphy v. George Lambert

District 19. Republican  Regina Birdsell v. Jim Foley v. Frank Sapareto

District 21. Republican Dennis Lamare v. Peter Macdonald v. Phil Nazzaro

Macdonald: "I support the Northern Pass project as currently proposed." 2014 LFDA Questionnaire

District 24. Republican  Nancy Stiles (incumbent; nay on 569) v. Steve Kenda

Stiles: "I would consider supporting the Northern Pass project with appropriate modifications to the plan." 2014 LFDA Questionnaire

Kenda: "I would consider supporting the Northern Pass project with appropriate modifications to the plan." 2014 LFDA Questionnaire


*Please send statements, with a link to their source, to us for inclusion. We reserve the right not to accept submissions.


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

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Town Meeting Warrant Articles on Northern Pass 2014

2014 Warrant Articles on Northern Pass.
(Full tally, 2011-2014, is below.)

Easton Article 7 - unanimously passed, 3/11/2014
Article 7. Expendable Trust Fund for Legal Fees Incurred Representing the Town's Position Regarding the Northern Pass Project.
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $7,500.00 to add to the Expendable Trust Fund for Legal Fees Incurred Representing the Town's Position Regarding the Northern Pass Project; of this amount $2,500.00 is to be raised from general taxation with the remaining balance of $5,000 to come from the December 31, 2013 Fund Balance. (The Selectmen recommend adoption of this Warrant Article.) (Majority vote required.)
[N.B.  This fund may accept donations, grants or gifts, in any amount, to be utilized for the same purpose set forth in Article 7. Such donations are tax deductible.]
Holderness Article 10 - unanimously passed, 3/11/2014.
"Article 10: To see if the Town will vote to reaffirm its objection to the Northern Pass Project, which submitted an amended application (replacing their original application and subsequent amendments) for a Presidential Permit to the Department of Energy on July 1, 2013 and to recommend that state owned transportation rights-of-way should be used to locate underground energy transmission corridors; or to take any other action relative thereto. This article is by petition."
Pembroke Article 15 - passed, 3/15/2014.

ARTICLE 15 - To see if the Town of Pembroke shall state its opposition to any new overhead development of alternating current and direct current high voltage transmission lines within its borders; and in turn manifest the Town’s strong preference for the burial of such lines, in a manner consistent with state and federal requirements, under rights of way and power line corridors now existing or to be established. Although burial in all instances is preferred, this statement of opposition shall not apply to distribution lines carrying electrical power and other utility lines, such as telephone and cable television, for Town residential or commercial use.

Stratford (excerpt from news report by Union Leader, 3/12/2014)
"Some Town Meeting voters took on ‘bigger picture’ issues" (excerpt)

Union Leader
In Stratford, voters took up the item: “To see if the town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to pursue the possible construction of a cell tower ...”
Three selectmen — Tim Brooks, Larry Ladd and Chair Robin Kimball Rheaume — cited the fact that the Northern Pass project was a supporter of a similar cell tower project in Groveton.
According to draft minutes from the session provided by Town Clerk Dawn Frost, the body first voted to allow the selectmen to move forward on the cell tower as long as no funding came from Northern Pass. Voters then amended the article — on the chance that Northern Pass might make a donation through another entity — to read that the effort can proceed in so far that “no apparent funding comes from Northern Pass.” The amended article passed on a voice vote.
Sugar Hill Articles 10, 11 - both passed unanimously, 3/11/2014.

ARTICLE 10: To see if the Town will vote to create a Town-funded trust fund pursuant to RSA 31:19-a, to be known as the Northern Pass Defense Fund, for the purpose of financing legal expenses and other costs incurred by the Town in advocating the Town’s opposition to the Northern Pass project, to appoint the Select Board as agents to spend this fund, and to raise and appropriate the sum of Ten Thousand Dollars($10,000) to be placed in this fund.
The Select Board recommends this Appropriation.

ARTICLE 11: To see if the Town will authorize the Select Board to accept donations, grants or gifts, in any amount, to be utilized for the same purposes as set forth in Article 10, above, to be held and invested in accordance with RSA 31:19-a, paragraph IV.

The Select Board recommends this Article.

Read the news report on Sugar Hill's vote on Articles 10 and 11.


Total: 33

 Ashland, Bath, Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Campton, Chichester, Clarksville, Colebrook, Columbia, (Concord*),  Dalton, Deerfield, Easton, Franconia, Effingham, Haverhill, Holderness, Jefferson, Lancaster, Landaff, Lincoln, Littleton, New Hampton, Northumberland, Orford, Pembroke, Pittsburg, Plymouth, Stewartstown, Stratford, Sugar Hill, Thornton, Wentworth, Woodstock 

*The Concord Planning Board unanimously voted to require Northern Pass to bury the lines in the city; the Conservation Commission unanimously voted to oppose the project altogether. This was not a full town meeting vote and is not included in the tally figure of 33. Several towns have voted in different warrant articles opposing Northern Pass in multiple years.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Looming Northern Pass Fight Hot Topic at Sugar Hill

A report on the 2014 town meeting in Sugar Hill, where "Northern Pass has been highly controversial and is widely despised."

Land Conservation, Looming Northern Pass Fight Hot Topics At Sugar Hill [excerpt]

Meghan McCarthy McPhaul
News Correspondent
Caledonian Record

SUGAR HILL, N.H. -- About 75 residents filled the Sugar Hill Meetinghouse for the 2014 Town Meeting Tuesday night, where conservation of town lands and preparing for a fight with the proposed Northern Pass electric transmission project were the main items of discussion.

There was little conversation through the first nine warrant articles, as voters unanimously approved the $1.3 million town operating budget and warrant articles totaling an additional $245,000.

These articles included funding for the Heavy Equipment Capital Reserve funds for both the highway department and fire department; roadwork improvement; bridge work; and Building Capital Reserve funds for the highway department, fire department, and Carolina Crapo Building, where the town offices are located.

Articles 10 and 11 related to raising funds to be used in legal and other costs related to the Northern Pass project. The proposed transmission line would pass through Sugar Hill, carrying Canadian hydropower to the regional electric grid. Northern Pass has been highly controversial and is widely despised in Sugar Hill and neighboring towns, where many residents and municipal leaders believe the project would be detrimental to property values and the tourism industry.

Warrant Article 10, which was approved unanimously, allows an appropriation of $10,000 to create a new trust fund to finance "legal expenses and other costs incurred by the Town in advocating the Town's opposition to the Northern Pass project."

"The town voted in 2010 to oppose this project," Board of Selectman Chair Margo Connors said during town meeting discussion. "This fund would be strictly for legal advice. It's not to mount any type of suit. This is just to protect ourselves and get good counsel."

Town meeting voters also unanimously passed Article 11, which allows the town to accept donations, gifts, and grants to use for legal and other costs related to opposing the Northern Pass project.

Connors said the selectmen have talked with representatives from other towns about collaborating and combining resources to fight Northern Pass. One way to do this, she said, would be to file as an intervener to the state's Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) process. The SEC must review and approve all energy projects in New Hampshire. By gaining intervener status, Sugar Hill and collaborating towns would gain access to all reports and information filed by Northern Pass and could contest specific aspects of the proposed project.

The longest discussion of the meeting was related to Article 12, which was petitioned to the warrant. The article would have restricted town conservation funds, garnered when property is taken out of current use and taxed accordingly, to be used only for projects within the town's property lines.

"I would like to see the conservation money kept in our own town of Sugar Hill," said petitioner Lissa Boissonneault. "I think there's a lot to be conserved here."

Several residents voiced their support of keeping town conservation funds within the town lines. Others, like Conservation Commission member Bill Fraser, argued that sometimes view sheds are outside the town boundaries, but are still important to residents. Last year the town contributed funding to the purchase of the 800-acre Cooley-Jericho Community Forest, which includes land in Sugar Hill, Landaff, Franconia, and Easton. Each of those towns, as well as Bethlehem, contributed to the effort, which was managed by the Sugar Hill-based Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust.

After a lengthy discussion about the legal technicalities, intent, and potential ramifications of the petitioned article, voters tabled Article 12. Conservation Commission member Tim Williams suggested the Commission create a set of guidelines, with public input, to determine what types of projects should be supported with the conservation funds, in an effort to alleviate residents' concerns on the matter.

. . . .

Monday, February 10, 2014

Everywhere We Look: Buried HVDC Transmission Lines within 500 miles of Concord NH

Buried HVDC Transmission Lines

within a 500 mile radius of Concord NH

       Actual (in service, under construction, or fully permitted), In Process, and Proposed
Underwater (UW) and Underground (UG)

**New England Projects with Expressed Interest in Clean Energy RFP (3/2015)


Champlain-Hudson Power Express (NY, VT).  1000 MW. 200 miles: 138 miles UG in state roads and railway ROWs; 62 miles UW. Status: all state and federal permits granted. Financing underway. Projected in-service date: 2019. Developer: Blackstone-TDI. DOE EIS:

Cross Sound Cable (NY, CT). 330 MW. 24 miles UW. Status: in service. Developer: Cross Sound Cable Co. LLC.

Hertel – New York Interconnection (Quebec, NY). 1000 MW. 58kms (40 miles) UG in highway. Developer: Hydro-Quebec. Status: Proposed, under study. Connects to Champlain-Hudson Power Express.

Hudson Project (NJ, NY). 660 MW. 7 miles: 3 miles UG in railway ROW; 4 miles UW. Developer: Anbaric. Status: in service.

Lake Erie Connector (Ontario, PA). 1000 MW bi-directional. 73 miles: UW and UG. Developer: ITC. Status: Presidential Permit application filed 5/29/2015/; in-service 2019.

**Maine Green Line (ME, MA). (Part of Green Line Infrastructure Alliance with National Grid.) 1000 MW (with expansion to 2000 MW possible). Combined wind and hydro. 300 miles: OH/ buried in railway ROWs; UW in Gulf of Maine. Developer: Anbaric. Status: ISO-NE process underway. Projected in-service 2021.

Maritime Link (NL, NS). 500 MW. UW 170km (104 miles) + OH terrestrial. Developer: Emera. Status: proposed.
Neptune Project (NJ, NY). 660 MW. 65 miles: 50 miles UW; 15 miles UG in parkway. Developer: Anbaric. Status: in service.

**New England Clean Power Link (VT). 1000 MW. 150 miles: 100 miles UW; 50 miles UG in existing state road ROWs. Developer: TDI-New England. Status: VT state permit process to conclude Dec. 2015; Draft EIS issued 6/2/2015; DEIS hearings completed 7/15-16/2015; FEIS expected 10/2015. Projected completion date: 2019. DOE EIS: VT PSB Docket #8400:
Northeast Energy Link (ME, NH, MA). 1100 MW. 230 miles UG in interstate transportation corridors. Developer: Emera/National Grid. Status: application projected for the end of 2015.

Poseidon (NJ, NY). 500 MW. 82 miles UG and UW. Developer: Anbaric. Status: PJM and NY ISO interconnections approved. NY state permitting in process. In-service date 2020.
Sea Link (NH, MA). 520 MW. 68 miles underground and underwater from Seabrook NH to Everett MA. Developer: New Hampshire Transmission Co. (NextEra Energy). Status: rejected as reliability line by ISO-New England for NH-MA Solution, 2/2015.

**Vermont Green Line (formerly Grand Isle Intertie) (NY-VT). 400 MW. Wind. UW. Developer: Anbaric. Projected in-service 2019.
West Point Project (NY). ? MW. 80-100 miles UG, UW. Status: under consideration.

Updated 7/2015