Monday, October 27, 2014
Sunday, October 19, 2014
North Country: Towns Incurring Big Expense Fighting Big Utilities
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
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.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Friday, August 29, 2014
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.”
|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
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.
"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
“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.”
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
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Friday, April 11, 2014
Littleton: Residents Suspicious Of National Grid Proposal
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
(Full tally, 2011-2014, is below.)
Easton Article 7 - unanimously passed, 3/11/2014
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.
The Select Board recommends this Article.
Read the news report on Sugar Hill's vote on Articles 10 and 11.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Land Conservation, Looming Northern Pass Fight Hot Topics At Sugar Hill [excerpt]Meghan McCarthy McPhaul
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
Underwater (UW) and Underground (UG)
**New England Projects with Expressed Interest in Clean Energy RFP (3/2015)
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. http://www.hydroquebec.com/hertel-new-york/en/
**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. http://anbarictransmission.com/projects/mainegreenline/
Maritime Link (NL, NS). 500 MW. UW 170km (104 miles) + OH terrestrial. Developer: Emera. Status: proposed. http://www.emeranl.com/en/home/themaritimelink/overview.aspx
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. http://anbarictransmission.com/projects/poseidon/
**Vermont Green Line (formerly Grand Isle Intertie) (NY-VT). 400 MW. Wind. UW. Developer: Anbaric. Projected in-service 2019. http://anbarictransmission.com/projects/vermontgreenline/.