Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mostly Small NH Towns v. Big Utilities


North Country Towns Gear Up For N.H. Supreme Court Fight Against Big Utilities

Argue State Allowing Utilities To “Escape Taxation”

Case to be heard Jan. 5, 2017

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
Nov 26, 2016

Municipalities across the state, including many in the North Country, have filed argument briefs in their years-long tax abatement fight against two big utilities, a case now scheduled to be heard before the N.H. Supreme Court Jan. 5.

The municipalities argue the appraisals provided by Eversource Energy and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative as well as by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration in towns are unreliable, do not provide an opinion of the value of the actual assets in the individual towns, and the DRA’s “net book approach … allowed property to escape taxation.”

At stake for the two utilities are millions of dollars saved through significantly reduced property taxes, a potential boost to company profits.

At stake for small towns, which argue the utilities are trying to get out of paying their fair share of taxes, is a reduction in tax revenue that could put a strain on town services and increase the taxes of all other taxpayers.

In July 2015, the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals ruled in favor of the towns, concluding the unit method of valuation sought by Eversource and NHEC - a method through which they seek to reduce their property taxes by one-half to two-thirds - does not represent the fair market value of the utility properties.

Eversource and NHEC promptly appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Representatives for Eversource have equated higher property taxes with increased costs for ratepayers, but neither utility has provided a guarantee that rates would be reduced or stay the same if their property taxes were likewise reduced.

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utilities, is the entity that approves or denies a requested rate increase.

In its argument brief filed with the New Hampshire Supreme Court in September, Eversource argues it faces regulatory restraints on income and operations and that “dramatically inconsistent assessments, including assessments more than doubling in one year in one community,” compelled it to file the appeals.

Eversource also claims the DRA establishes the market value of utility property for the state utility tax and municipal assessments “vary widely” from the DRA’s valuations.

In an argument brief filed at the New Hampshire Supreme Court in early November, however, attorneys for the towns argue, “Over 50 years ago, this court recognized that using net book to value utility property is inherently unfair and impractical because, in part, it does not address the changes in the of the assets that occur over long periods of time.”

The towns also took aim at the DRA, the agency responsible for supervising assessments in the state, which they charge with providing appraisals with errors and allying with the two utilities at the expense of the towns they represent.

In its brief, the DRA argues the BTLA ruling jeopardizes the state’s equalization process, which it said relies on the allocated values from the DRA appraisals and puts at risk the local assessments in about one-third of all N.H. municipalities that use the DRA utility property appraisal values for local tax assessing.

If the BTLA ruling stands, the DRA argues, the utility property tax that the agency said last year generated nearly $43 million in revenue could be undermined.

What the agency did not say in its argument, however, is if utility property values in some towns are being unnecessarily under-assessed.

In many small towns, utility property makes up a large chunk of their tax base, which, if they lose the case, could erode by millions of dollars.

The municipalities also argue the DRA is not being transparent and is not allowing selectmen and the public to review the basis for the agency’s valuation for local tax purposes.

“Basically, the DRA is saying ‘trust us, we’ll get it right, and we are not going to allow anyone to check our work,” attorneys Jae Whitelaw, Christopher Boldt and Shawn Tanguay, representing the towns, wrote in their brief. “This effort at reassurance rings hollow.”

Stephan Hamilton, director of the DRA’s Municipal and Property Division, was contacted several times about the case, but declined to comment.

Some towns have been spending tens of thousands of dollars annually fighting the appeals that began in 2011 and have continued each year thereafter.

Eversource, the largest electric utility in New Hampshire, is suing about one-quarter of New Hampshire’s municipalities, most of them small towns and including Littleton, Bath, Haverhill, Lancaster, Dalton, Northumberland, Whitefield, Landaff, Stark, Stratford and Stewartstown.

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

In Lancaster, for the 2011 tax year, the company wants to cut its assessment from $7.38 million to $3 million.

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.

Representing the two utilities at the Jan. 5 oral argument before the state’s high court will be attorney Margaret Nelson. Representing the DRA will be Assistant New Hampshire Attorney General Laura Lombardi. Representing the towns will be attorneys Boldt, Tanguay, and Walter Mitchell.

The case could have widespread ramifications on utility property appraisal in the future, beyond the two current utilities.

Since the appeals were filed, three more utilities also standing to gain through reduced property taxes have filed briefs in support of Eversource and the NHEC - Unitil Energy Systems, Northern Utilities, and Granite State Gas Transmission.

###

Towns named in the suits include: Andover, Bridgewater, Croydon, Danville, Durham, Dunbarton, Fremont, Littleton, New Hampton, Pembroke, Randolph, Sandwich, Sunapee, Bath, Bradford, Bristol, Landaff, Milan, Bennington, Chester, Dalton, Hampstead, Haverhill, Hinsdale, Hopkinton, Lancaster, Lincoln, Madison, Marlborough, Newport, Pelham, Raymond, Springfield, Stratford, Washington, Whitefield, Unity, Hinsdale, Plymouth, Antrim, East Kingston, Francestown, Gorham, Greenville, Henniker, New Ipswich, Northfield, South Hampton, Stark, Stewartstown, Stoddard, Warner, Wilmot, Nelson, Hollis, Northumberland, Colebrook, Monroe. (58)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Steve Ellis: Town roads and Northern Pass's back door eminent domain



On December 20, 2016, 18 New Hampshire municipalities and others filed a petition asking the SEC to rule that Northern Pass does not have the legal right to use locally-maintained town roads without municipal permission. Project applicants have been proceeding without such municipal permission. The petition contains appendices with affidavits from property owners whom the Applicants paid in order to perform required geotechnical surveys on their private land next to town roads in Stewartstown. Following is a summary of the petition, with a link to the full text, news reports, and a letter by Steve Ellis, chair of the Pittsburg Select Board, asking other NH municipalities to support the petition at the SEC. This matter, Ellis notes, affects all NH towns and cities and is larger than the issue of Northern Pass per se.

(See the end of this post for the January 4, 2017 update.)

PETITION TO THE SEC FOR DECLARATORY RULIN

The Town of Bethlehem, Town of Bridgewater, Town of Bristol, Town of Clarksville, City of Concord, Town of Deerfield, Town of Easton, Town of Franconia, Town of Littleton, Town of New Hampton, Town of Northumberland, Town of Pembroke, Town of Pittsburg, Town of Plymouth, Town of Stewartstown, Town of Sugar Hill and Town of Whitefield, Town of Woodstock, the Ashland Water and Sewer Department, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and the Appalachian Mountain Club (the "Petitioners"), pursuant to New Hampshire Administrative Rule Site 203.01, respectfully petition the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (the "SEC" or "Committee") to issue a declaratory ruling stating that, pursuant to RSA 231: 160 et seq, only municipalities have the authority to authorize or not authorize the erection, installation, or maintenance of electric power poles or structures or underground conduits or cable, or their respective attachments or appurtenances, on, across, or under locally maintained highways, regardless of whether the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (the "NHDOT"), the SEC, or other agencies have authority to permit or license other portions of any proposed facility.

Read the full petition to the SEC by 18 NH towns et al. here.

News reports:

"Northern Pass Looking to Avoid Town Permitting?," by Donna Jordan.

"When It comes to Northern Pass, Who Controls the Roads?," by Nancy West.
Reprinted in the Berlin Daily Sun, Conway Daily Sun, and Union Leader.

"Towns Use 'Home Rule' Strategy in Northern Pass Fight," by Robert Blechl.
Reprinted in Union Leader.

"NH Towns Assert Authority over Local Roads Regarding Northern Pass," by Jack Savage.

"18 NH Towns Seek More Local Control over Northern Pass Siting," AP report.

"SEC to Review Petition on Northern Pass Road Use," by Donna Jordan (1/2/2017).


Steve Ellis's letter to NH municipalities

December 20, 2016

TO: New Hampshire Boards of Selectmen
New Hampshire City Mayors and Governing Boards
New Hampshire Town Councils

FROM: Steve Ellis, Chair, Town of Pittsburg, Board of Selectmen

SUBJECT: Local Control of Municipal Roads

I write on behalf of the Boards of Selectmen in Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown, to share with you a concern we have about the legal control of municipal roads and how the established principle of home rule applies to the continued ability of municipalities to retain control over municipal roads. I also write to ask you to consider writing a letter to defend the principle of home rule as it relates to municipal roads.

Our concern arises over a claim by the region's largest electric utility (Eversource) that they have the right to appropriate municipal transportation rights of way without any consultation or approval from the municipal governing authority to build a high voltage electric transmission line within the right of way. In fact, RSA 231:161 clearly provides that municipal governing bodies have the exclusive authority to permit and license such uses of municipally owned rights of way. Eversource, the developer of the Northern Pass project, claims that the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee has the power to preempt this statute. Nothing in the statute authorizing the Site Evaluation Committee (RSA 162-H) sets aside the statutory provisions in RSA 231: 161. Eversource lamely argues that a prior Supreme Court case with an entirely different set of facts supports their claim. An excerpt from the Northern Pass application to the SEC making this claim [follows, below].

Follow this link to the Supreme Court decision cited by Northern Pass: https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/2111618/public-servco-v-town-of-hampton/

 Our three towns have joined with a number of other intervenors in the Northern Pass docket at the SEC to ask the SEC to initiate a new docket to specifically address this dispute. Under SEC rules, any party can file a request for a declaratory ruling for the purpose of addressing matters within the SEC's jurisdiction. A copy of our filing made December 19 is [here] for your review.

Whether one is for, against or agnostic on the issue of Northern Pass, it is the height of arrogance (not to mention against the law) for a large domestic utility partnering with a large foreign utility to commandeer for their exclusive financial benefit a municipal transportation corridor without the acquiescence of the municipality. In the six years since Northern Pass was first announced, project developers have never formally or informally asked our towns' permission to use town roads for their project. Their application to the SEC has a single blank license form for the locations within our three towns where they propose to bury their facility along more than 8 miles of municipally maintained roads. The Legislature has precluded Northern Pass from having access to eminent domain for the purpose of condemning private property for their project. However, RSA 231: 167 provides that if a landowner has suffered damage as a result of the installation, the landowner may apply to the Selectmen to assess damages in the same manner as laying out a new road. In other words, the Town would be liable for the taking and responsible for paying the damages assessed, not Northern Pass. Northern Pass is thus shifting the burden of eminent domain - a power it does not possess - to the Towns, while arguing that the towns have no say in the matter.

This back-door condemnation of municipal roads must not be allowed to stand. I ask you to consider writing a letter to the SEC in support of our petition, opposing the Eversource attempt to secure through the back door what they cannot achieve through the front door. Please direct your comments to: Ms. Pamela Monroe, Administrator, NH Site Evaluation Committee, 21 Fruit Street, Concord, NH 03301. Or e-mail your comments to Pamela.Monroe@sec.nh.gov.

 Thank you for your consideration of this request.


---------------------


FROM PAGE 82-83 of NORTHERN PASS SEC APPLICATION,
Submitted October 19, 2015

(D) Crossing Local Highways
NPT seeks permission to install the Project, including conduit, cable, wires, poles, structures and devices across, over, under and along certain locally-maintained highways, including 71 aerial crossings and four underground roadway installation sections. The underground sections are identified by town and roadway. The SEC has exclusive authority to grant permission to an energy facility to utilize locally-maintained highways. In Public Service Company of New Hampshire v. Town of Hampton, 120 N.H. 68 (Jan. 31, 1980), the Court pointed out that the “declared purposed of RSA ch. 162-F [forerunner to RSA ch. 162-H] is to provide a resolution, in an ‘integrated fashion,’ of all issues involving the routing of transmission lines.” The Court found that the Town of Hampton could not regulate transmission lines associated with the Seabrook Nuclear Station, noting that the SEC protects the public health and safety of towns with respect to transmission lines covered by the siting statute. NPT has filed a request with the NHDOT to cross state-maintained highways and has included that request with the Application as required by RSA 162-H:7 and Site 301.03 (d). See Appendix 9.

RSA 162-H:16, IV provides that the SEC must find, among other things, that issuance of
a certificate of site and facility will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on public health and
safety. Utilities of all varieties, including power lines, have long been recognized as appropriate
users of public highways, so long as the facilities do not conflict with the general public’s
superior use. E.g., McCaffrey v. Concord Electric Co., 80 N.H. 45, 46-47 (1921). In King v.
Town of Lyme, 126 N.H. 279, 284 (1985), the Court affirmed that a utility’s use of a highway
easement is appropriate since New Hampshire has never considered highway purposes to be
limited to the transportation of movable vehicles, persons or property.  The authority to erect electric transmission lines and underground cables in state and local highways is codified at RSA 231:160. The standard for locating poles, lines, and underground cables is set forth at RSA 231:168, which states that the lines “will not interfere with the safe, free and convenient use for public travel of the highway.” To further that process, the NHDOT has adopted certain standards, which are set forth in its Utility Accommodation Manual (“UAM”), dated February 24, 2010. This filing constitutes notice of these proposed crossings, associated pole placements and locations in accordance with the procedures set forth in the UAM Appendix G-3.1-2.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has made it clear that the authority to license placement of power lines, poles and underground conduit within highways is regulatory in character and must be exercised in a non-exclusionary and reasonable manner. In Rye v. Public Service Company of New Hampshire, 130 N.H. 365 (1988), the Court found that a crossing application may be denied only for a public safety-based reason.

NPT seeks approval from the SEC to install its Project within, along, over, under and
across locally-maintained highways. This request mirrors the approach followed, and the
standards applied, in the request made to NHDOT for state-maintained highways. With respect
to the underground highway installation sections in the towns of Clarksville and Stewartstown,
NPT proposes that the SEC apply the NHDOT Standard Specifications for Road and Bridge
Construction and the provisions, instructions, and regulations set forth in the NHDOT’s standard
Excavation Permit. Furthermore, NPT proposes that the SEC condition approval of a certificate,
to the extent necessary, on compliance with such standards. Accordingly, Project plans for aerial
crossings and underground sections within highways are provided at the 30% design level, which
is the commonly accepted level of detail for initial permit applications and consistent with

NHDOT practice. See Appendix 9 and 10.


###

January 4, 2017 Update

The SEC has opened a new docket (2016-03) on the petition here.

Anyone may enter a public comment on the petition; it will be posted in the "comments" section of this docket.

Make reference to "Docket 2016-03" in your comment and include your residential address.

Email your comment to the SEC Administrator, Ms. Pamela Monroe, at pamela.monroe@sec.nh.gov.

The SEC will hold a meeting on January 12, 2017, starting at 11:00 AM, to discuss plans for proceeding on this docket. The location for the meeting is the PUC, Fruit Street, Concord.




Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hydro Quebec's mind boggling profit makes Northern Pass burial look more "economic" every day

Line burial looks more “economic” every day 

Coos County Democrat
Littleton Courier 
September 21, 2016

Editorial

As the President and Chief Executive Officer of Hydro-Québec, Éric Martel spends a lot of time smiling. Who cares, he probably thinks, that the company's profit was $37 million less in the second quarter of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. After all, for the first six months of this year, the company posted a profit of nearly $1.9 billion. Once again, this editor would like to congratulate the foreign monopoly for making so much money. He would also like to ask why Martel does not seem interested in using some of Hydro-Québec's $432,692 of hourly profit to completely satisfy residents of Northern New Hampshire. As the entity that would build Northern Pass, the hydropower transmission project through our state, Hydro-Québec has plenty of money to fully bury the project. 

Previously, this editor used the figure of $370,000 to describe Hydro-Québec's hourly profit. Mr. Martel and his company keep finding ways to bring home more bacon. Now making about $60,000 an hour more compared to last year, no rational argument can be made that Northern Pass cannot afford the approximately $1 billion of extra cost to fully bury the power line. Hydro-Québec can make nearly that much money in an average three-month span. 

The project likes to say that full burial is “uneconomic” for Northern Pass. They say this because the foreign shareholders of Hydro-Québec would prefer to put their massive profits elsewhere. No one can say with a straight face that completely burying Northern Pass is anything but “economic,” due to how much money Hydro-Québec keeps making. Many people in our region work really hard all year without making ten percent of what Hydro-Québec takes to the bank in an hour. Hopefully, the company and Northern Pass will stop insulting our intelligence by saying the money just is not there to make invisible the 130 miles of proposed aboveground lines.

Just in proposed form, without a speck of dirt moved to construct the project, Northern Pass can do much to alter the order of things in our region. Sugar Hill's Dolly McPhaul took her intense opposition to the project on the road during a Republican primary campaign for State Senate. Without having held elective office before, McPhaul defeated a highly experienced elected official who many rightfully deemed as wishy washy on Northern Pass. The result of the primary contest has issued a warning to all politicians who seem closer to the billions Hydro-Québec makes than the perspective of residents in our region who simply cannot accept Northern Pass as proposed. And this editor would once again like to say to our elected officials: resign if you cannot side with the people of this region demanding that Éric Martel pay for a fully buried Northern Pass that makes New Hampshire happy.

An old saying notes, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Congratulations, once again, to Éric Martel and the economic powerhouse of a company he leads. Much has been given to him. Now it is finally time, nearly six years after Northern Pass was first proposed, that the project is required to spend the dollars necessary to completely bury the transmission lines. Martel can make all the money he wants. He simply should not be allowed to change so much about New Hampshire while pocketing a mind boggling amount of money.

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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Editorial: A bad week for Northern Pass



Littleton Courier and Coos County Democrat editorial, 5/25/2016 -
 
A bad week for Northern Pass
 
The level of negative public comments about Northern Pass was not surprising at a hearing in Whitefield on Thursday evening. Even with opposition to the project from all but one speaker, the hearing was not enough for the controversial hydropower transmission project to have a bad week. Additional facts learned Thursday could be downright devastating for Northern Pass, however. The Site Evaluation Committee and the Department of Environmental Services took steps to cause a big momentum shift toward those who oppose the project.
 
The SEC's decision to add nine months to the review of Northern Pass demonstrates what many have thought for a long time: The project is too complicated and impactful for a regulatory review to conclude by the original deadline, which was late this year. Now, with the decision date on a construction permit pushed to the end of September 2017, one wonders if Hydro Quebec, which would build Northern Pass with its partner Eversource, will decide the fight is not worth it. With nine more months to make their case, those who oppose the project have wind at their backs now.
 
Perhaps more devastating to the project, DES has issued a detailed list of regulatory findings that lead to one simple conclusion: The preferred route of the applicant will not receive wetlands and alteration of terrain permits in its current form. DES clearly supports more burial of the transmission lines, and Northern Pass is going to need to spend a lot more money on re-routing the project and making more people happy.
 
Another big question for the coming months will be whether the proposed Forward NH Fund, which promises millions in economic development for the state, can be considered as part of the benefits from Northern Pass. State law requires the SEC to determine the project is in the "public interest," and project opponents do not see why the fund should be considered part of the electricity transmission application. A determination that a public interest finding need not consider the fund's benefits would be an even bigger blow than what state regulators delivered last week.
 
Many residents in our region, with some justification, have wondered if the state's regulators were going to quickly approve Northern Pass, regardless of the strong opposition to the project in our region. The SEC and DES have proven they are not lap dogs of the utility industry by taking strong steps in a direction Hydro Quebec obviously does not want to go.
 
Maybe Hydro Quebec is not that concerned about pleasing people who live in the North Country. But they learned a big lesson this week: Failure to please regulators means more upfront costs during the application process, and therefore less profit from the long life they hope to wrest from Northern Pass infrastructure. This editor would now like to ask another question: Will the project ever happen? That is not as silly to ask as it may seem. After all, we are almost six years out from the original project proposal, and Northern Pass is nowhere close to moving its first speck of  dirt along the transmission route.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Balsams’ Otten Asks Selectmen For Neutrality On Northern Pass


Colebrook: Balsams’ Otten Asks Selectmen For Neutrality On Northern Pass

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
April 5, 2016

Three weeks after testifying at a hearing in support of Northern Pass, Balsams developer Les Otten weighed in on the project again when he asked Colebrook selectmen last week to jettison a paragraph encouraging burial of the proposed power line in a letter they sent to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee.

During their March 28 meeting, selectmen voted 3-0 to send the letter, drafted by Selectman Susan Collins, to NHSEC stating, “The Colebrook selectboard recognizes the divisiveness that the Northern Pass project has created in our community and surrounding region. The town of Colebrook is not and has not been a party to the negative campaigns opposed to the transmission project.”

The selectmen then wrote, “The town of Colebrook does support the $200 million Forward New Hampshire fund and its stated goals of community betterment, clean energy innovation, economic development and tourism. If there was ever a need for accomplishing all four goals in northern Coos County and Colebrook, it is now.”

 On March 8, at joint NHSEC-U.S. Department of Energy hearing on Northern Pass in Colebrook, Otten said the $143 million first-phase Balsams redevelopment will benefit from $2 million from Northern Pass with “the potential for a more substantial investment by the fund as Northern Pass progresses.”

In their letter, the Colebrook selectmen said the N.H. Forward fund has made a “significant financial commitment to The Balsams redevelopment” and the closure several years ago of the resort’s golf course in Colebrook “has negatively impacted Colebrook’s tax base.”

After selectmen last week voted to send the letter and its ending paragraph recommending burial to the SEC, Balsams developer Ed Brisson, who was at the March 28 meeting, contacted Otten, who drove to the meeting to encourage the board to remove it.

According to the draft meeting minutes, Otten expressed concerns that the letter’s words about burying the Northern Pass line sound like the selectmen have picked a side instead of staying neutral and letting the NHSEC decide.

The board voted unanimously to remove the paragraph.

“We intended to be neutral and felt it was, but other folks felt it wasn’t, and by taking out that particular paragraph we became more neutral,” Board of Selectman Chairman Greg Placy told the White Mountain Record Monday.

Placy said selectmen would not be averse to the town receiving money from the Forward N.H. fund, which he said could help the town with projects, among them Main Street reconstruction.

The board believes it should be neutral, with one reason being the line would not pass through Colebrook, said Placy.

Last week, Otten also met with executive board members of the Colebrook-based North Country Chamber of Commerce (NCCC), which is opposed to the Northern Pass towers, to ask them for the same neutrality. The NCCC is a NHSEC-granted intervenor in Northern Pass.

On Monday, Otten told the White Mountain Record he wanted to inform the Colebrook selectmen that the current Northern Pass plan before the NHSEC includes above-ground line and some buried line, 5,000 acres of land donation, and the $200 million Forward N.H. fund.

“There are a lot of things in the plan and if you said you were against it or you favored burial of the entire line you were against the plan,” said Otten. “I don’t think that has been entirely clear to everyone … I thought it was important for me, as a resident of Dixville and an investor so far, to inform the selectboard that for me I would rather see their position as neutral.”

On the chamber of commerce, Otten said, “When you take a business group that encompasses everyone from retired investment bankers to one-man businesses and that entity represents the community at large, I think it is appropriate for that institution to not take either side in that debate. I simply asked the executive board if I could present my point of view, and that is to take a neutral position, not for or against it, at the SEC.”

NCCC President Wayne Frizzell did not return a call Monday asking if the chamber will consider Otten’s request to be a neutral party in the chamber’s intervenor status with the NHSEC.

Money from the $200 million Forward N.H. fund would be disbursed to municipalities, businesses and organizations after an approval of the project.

Of the $2 million from Northern Pass for the Balsams redevelopment, Otten on Monday said, “What we have, we will owe. We have to pay it back. It’s a business negotiation between us and them and there are a lot of pieces to it.”

Opponents of the proposed towers, concerned about negative impacts to property values, scenic views and tourism, have said Northern Pass is trying to buy support for an unpopular project and argue Eversource Energy, parent company of Northern Pass, and partner Hydro-Quebec are unwilling to spend an additional $1 billion out of the billions of dollars they would make in profit to fully bury the line.

To expand the Balsams ski area, Otten has about 3,300 acres on the adjacent Bayroot property managed by Wagner Forest Management under option for purchase.

Wagner has entered into a lease agreement with Eversource to allow some 24 miles of Northern Pass towers on the Bayroot property.

Otten said his support of Northern Pass is not related to Eversource’s agreement with Wagner Forest Management and said Dixville Capital LLC, the Balsams’ redevelopment company, has had the Bayroot acres under option for some time.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

SEC Site Inspection Itinerary, March 7-8, 2016

 
STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
SITE EVALUATION COMMITTEE
Docket No. 2015-06
 
Issued March 3, 2016
 
(Excerpted from full Order and Notice)
 
NOTICE AND ORDER OF SITE INSPECTION
 
March 7 and March 8, Coos County

 
Pursuant to New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules, Site 202.13, a Site Inspection in this docket will be held on March 7 and March 8, 2016. On March 7, 2016, the Subcommittee, Counsel for the Public, and representatives of the Applicant will travel from Concord to Colebrook and will be prohibited from discussing the pending Application while on the route to Colebrook.

On March 7, 2016, the Site Inspection will commence at 11:30 AM at the Colebrook Elementary School, 27 Dumont Street in Colebrook, and will include the following stops:

12:00 PM - Hall Stream Road in Pittsburg (Border Crossing with Canada);

12:25 PM - Beecher Falls Road – Route 3 in Pittsburg-Clarksville (location of
transition stations 1 and 2 and underground on Route 3 – Washburn Family Forest);

12:50 PM - Wiswell Road in Clarksville (location of transition station 3);

1:25 PM - Heath Road in Stewartstown (location of transition station 4);

 2:00 PM - Diamond Pond Road in Stewartstown-Colebrook (Diamond Pond/Coleman

State Park);

2:45 PM - Route 26 in Millsfield/Dixville (Route 26 Route Crossing); and

3:20 PM – Return to Colebrook Elementary School.

On March 8, 2016, the Site Inspection will commence at 10:00 AM at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, 101 Mountain View Road in Whitefield, and will include the following stops:

10:45 PM - Route 110 in Stark;

11:30 PM - Route 2 Scenic Overlook in Lancaster;

12:05 PM - Route 116 in Whitefield (Libby House);

12:15 PM - Route 3 in Whitefield (Whitefield Substation);

12:30 PM - Burns Pond Road in Whitefield (Burns Pond);

1:05 PM - Christmas Tree Lane in Bethlehem (The Rocks Estate); and

1:50 PM – Return to Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa.

All times set forth above are estimated and may be affected by weather, traffic, the amount of time at each stop, or other things beyond the control of the Subcommittee.

All parties and intervenors in this docket may attend the Site Inspection. There will be a bus provided that can accommodate 20 people at both the Colebrook Elementary School on March 7 and the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa on March 8.

Preference will be given to prospective intervenors from Coos County on a first-come, first served basis.

Members of the public may attend the Site Inspection at their own risk and expense; and with the understanding that the weather and terrain may require the Subcommittee to limit the extent of public participation in order to assure the safety of the Subcommittee, the parties, and the public.
 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Uneconomic" argument has never made sense


Hydro Quebec’s finances belie claims that burying Northern Pass would be "uneconomic"

Editorial
Littleton Courier
February 3, 2016

 
Could there be a financial crisis at Hydro Quebec? The company experienced a drop in profit for the first nine months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Rather than $2.545 billion, revenue minus expenses nosedived to $2.472 billion. Hopefully, Chief Executive Officer Eric Martel is not suffering a big decline in lifestyle because Hydro Quebec made $73 million less through September 2015 than the year before. After all, Martel and his business partner, Eversource Energy, need as much comfort and strength as possible to convince New Hampshire that burying all of Northern Pass is "uneconomic." That interesting word is the invariable refrain from supporters of Northern Pass when answering questions about why the entire 192 miles of electricity transmission line cannot be buried.
 
The "uneconomic" argument has never made sense. Hydro Quebec, which will pay the cost to build Northern Pass, is an incredibly wealthy entity. The company seems quite pleased with the third quarter 2015 results. After all, the $73 million reduction in profit compared to the year before is a drop in the bucket when you know your owner, the government of the province, will always have your back.
 
Residents heard many questions and answers from Northern Pass recently. Last month, another round of public hearings took place in the five counties where the power line would run. Residents have another shot, likely in March, when a quorum of the Site Evaluation Committee, the state entity that will determine the fate of Northern Pass, convenes in each of the five counties again. An ocean of orange shirts – the color of opposition to the project – will be vibrant once more, and the active citizens opposing Northern Pass will be prepared to deliver additional testimony.
 
The SEC hearings next month will likely provide some time for comedy, as well. Examples seen in Lincoln at the January hearing included a person handing Bill Quinlan, President of Eversource, an orange shirt. Or, when tireless Northern Pass opponent Nancy Martland of Sugar Hill compared the current proposal, which includes more than 130 miles of above ground lines, to a 1958 Edsel automobile. She then handed Quinlan a small but sleek red sports car toy to symbolize a fully buried power line.
 
No better argument can be made for why complete burial is "economic" than the riches that keep Hydro Quebec afloat. Any member of the SEC more sympathetic to a multi-billion dollar foreign entity than the demands of Granite Staters will have much explaining to do if a certificate to build Northern Pass does not require full burial. Clearly, the public interest demands it, and Hydro Quebec can afford to do so.
 
If Northern Pass ever gets built, Hydro Quebec will need to spend a lot of money on the construction phase. Asking a company to use about six months of profit to totally bury the line is not a ridiculous claim by mindless tree huggers in New Hampshire. It is the immensely reasonable plea of people who love the North Country and want to protect its glory as long as humans and creatures enjoy our forests and mountains. By taking that fact to heart, Northern Pass can truly prove it listens to people by finding enough money in a seemingly endless bag of treasure to completely bury the power

Friday, January 22, 2016

Northern Pass Avoids Profit Questions


1/22/2016

Whitefield: Northern Pass Avoids Profit Questions During Second SEC Hearing

Motions To Intervene Must Be Filed By Feb. 5

 
PHOTO BY ROBERT BLECHLNorthern Pass opponents Chelsea Petereit, left, and Mark McColluck, of North Stratford, wearing the opposition orange, applaud testimony calling on the state and company to bury the entire line.
+ click to enlarge
PHOTO BY ROBERT BLECHL
Northern Pass opponents Chelsea Petereit, left, and Mark McColluck, of North Stratford, wearing the opposition orange, applaud testimony calling on the state and company to bury the entire line.
PHOTO BY ROBERT BLECHLWhitefield musician Katie Rose performs her new anti-Northern Pass song, “Powers That Be,” during the NH SEC public hearing on Northern Pass Wednesday.
+ click to enlarge
PHOTO BY ROBERT BLECHL
Whitefield musician Katie Rose performs her new anti-Northern Pass song, “Powers That Be,” during the NH SEC public hearing on Northern Pass Wednesday.
By Robert Blechl,
Staff Writer
Caledonian Record
WHITEFIELD -- While Eversource executives continue to tell their shareholders a consensus is building around Northern Pass, a different story is playing out in the North Country, where opposition, after five years, remains just as fierce.

That opposition, turning out Wednesday for a N.H. Site Evaluation Committee information session at the Mountain View Grand, is pushing Eversource to state how much profit the company stands to gain through the transmission line they say would be subsidized through negative impacts to property values and the region's tourist industry.

Talk of profit is one thing Eversource, partner with Hydro-Quebec and parent company of Northern Pass, has shied away from, and Wednesday was no exception.

During a question-and-answer session, Eversource NH President Bill Quinlan said, "It's technically possible to bury the entire line," a statement that drew robust applause from opponents of overhead lines and towers.

But full burial would add about a billion dollars to the currently estimated $1.6 billion project and make it "uneconomical," he said.

"We, along with our partners, are not willing to go forward with a project that costs a billion more," he said.

Quinlan did not give a profit threshold below which Eversource will not go and declined to say if Hydro-Quebec will pay all or or most of the development costs in N.H. and how much the two companies would make in profit and revenue.


Documents and calculations, however, show billions of dollars to be made by both and also show that Hydro-Quebec would pay all development costs and expenses for Eversource, resulting in a $100 million first-year profit return for Eversource and at least a $2 billion return on equity, or guaranteed Eversource profit, during the 40-year term of the line.

According to a February 2011 order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission accepting the Transmission Service Agreement between both entities, Hydro-Quebec "will be responsible for providing approximately [$1.6 billion] in initial construction costs and return on such costs, necessary additional capital expenditures and return, and other expenses associated with the line over the 40-year operating term of the TSA."


Based on August 2015 megawatt hour prices, Hydro-Quebec stands to make at least $600 million a year, or $24 billion during the 40-year term of the line, according to calculations by Responsible Energy Action LLC.

"Northern Pass' single largest expense is Eversource's profit," Dalton resident and REAL member Jim Dannis said Thursday. "When Mr. Quinlan says it's unaffordable to bury the lines, you have to wonder why he won't cut his profit by just a bit to do what's right for New Hampshire. When it comes to the economics of the project, it's a black box. Eversource says its uneconomical, but won't tell you why."

In the FERC order, Northern Pass is called a "cost-based transmission project where the risk of the project has been shifted to [Hydro-Quebec], the customer, as opposed to a merchant transmission project where the transmission developer [Eversource] assumes the risk."

As structured, the TSA "ensures that the cost of the NPT line will be fully recovered by Northern Pass from [Hydro-Quebec] over the term of the TSA."
Since the project went public more than five years ago, Hydro-Quebec has refused to comment on concerns by New Hampshire residents and has not said why full burial is not an option.

In New Hampshire, SEC, a statewide planning board for energy projects, is the agency that would grant the required certificate of site and facility for the line that is designed to import hydro-power from Quebec to the market in southern New England.

If approved, the 1,090-megawatt 192-mile line with steel towers at least 85 feet high would stretch from Pittsburg to Deerfield.


To date, a total of 60 miles would be buried, including about 8 miles of line in Clarksville and Stewartstown and 52 miles in and around the White Mountain National Forest from Bethlehem to Bridgewater.

Through its Forward NH plan, announced in August and including a $200 million economic development fund, lower energy costs and other benefits, Quinlan said Northern Pass would equate to $3.8 billion in economic benefits to the state.

When asked what the $80 million in projected cost savings means for N.H. ratepayers, Quinlan said roughly $5 on a monthly $100 utility bill.


Referring to the company's stated economic benefits, Colles Stowell, who owns property in Lancaster, struck a chord in the room when he said, "Take your $4 billion Forward NH plan and bury the line and the opposition will disappear."


Few Supporters

 
More than 200 residents turned out for Wednesday's session, most in opposition.
Drawing applause during the comment period was Sugar Hill resident Nancy Martland, who said, "I am here tonight to stand with my friends and neighbors of Coos, to look the Northern Pass developers in the eye and tell you that if it is right to bury your power transmission line through Sugar Hill, it is right to bury it through the equally precious and valuable towns of Coos County. And it is not right to divide us into the saved and the damned, the burial towns and the tower towns."
Martland said Eversource looks at North Country communities as dots to be connected on a map and called the project "a lucrative business deal hatched in corner offices in Hartford and Montreal."

"We know our own worth even if you do not," she said. "You cannot bully us, you cannot buy us, you cannot trick us, you cannot wear us down, you cannot make us go away until you do the right thing and bury every mile of cable through our beloved state of New Hampshire ... Go underground or go home."

Northumberland resident Joseph Keenan, who moved to northern New Hampshire because of its beauty, said, "No other issue in 20 years has brought together the political spectrum like this has."

Keenan said he has had his property reappraised twice in recent years and both times described negative impacts to his property from Northern Pass.

Wednesday's session included state Reps. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, Brad Bailey, R-Monroe, and Sue Ford, D-Easton, and state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton.

Citing impacts to property values and tourism, Bailey, said, "The vast majority of my constituents won't be happy until you bury the entire line."

Rideout, too, said his constituents are concerned and don't feel like Northern Pass has listened to them.

"If you don't look at burying this, the project will drag on," he said.

Several spoke in support of the project, including a representative from the International Brotherhood of Industrial Workers, who would help erect the towers; Stewartstown resident Landon Placey, who in 2011 sold 60 acres to Northern Pass for $675,000; Lancaster businessman Allen Bouthillier, owner of AB Excavating in Lancaster, whose company he said would benefit; and Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, who said future development in Coos County depends on cheaper electricity.

Woodburn said Northern Pass' latest proposal still falls short, an imbalance remains and more needs to be done to define benefits to the North Country.

A balance could be struck with additional burial, more money to the region for mitigation or a combination of both, said Woodburn.

An SEC public information session is being held in each of the five counties the line would pass through. Thursday's session in Lincoln was the last of the latest round, with more public hearings to follow.

Communities and individuals wanting to be interveners have until Feb. 5 to file for intervener status with the SEC.

The state agencies that also need to make decisions on permits, such as the N.H. Department of Environmental Services and Department of Transportation, are expected to render their final decisions by Aug. 15.

SEC is expected to render its decision by Dec. 19.
More information about the SEC process can be found at www.nhsec.nh.gov.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Transmission Line Burial Bill Rises from Dead


1/8/2016

Transmission Line Burial Bill Rises From Dead

By Robert Blechl, Staff Writer
Caledonian Record

A bill tabled last year that seeks to designate energy infrastructure corridors in the state for burial of transmission lines like Northern Pass came back from the dead this week after being resurrected by the N.H. House of Representatives.

Voting against tabling it for another legislative session on Wednesday were 241 state representatives, including nearly all state representatives in the North Country.

House Bill 626, whose North Country sponsors include state Rep. Sue Ford, D-Easton, and state Rep. Rebecca Brown, D-Sugar Hill, and state Sen. Forrester, R-Meredith, would create underground utility corridors along state-owned roads and highways.

 The text of the bill reads that as the state's businesses become more dependent on lower-cost energy to remain competitive and as its citizens seek more affordable and cleaner sources of power and become more aware of the value of the state's natural landscapes, "it has become increasingly difficult to site and develop large-scale above-ground energy transmission lines ... without unacceptably high development costs and regulatory delays, unacceptable negative impacts on the state's most valuable natural landscapes, and the potential for unacceptable adverse impacts on adjoining private property values."

The Legislature therefore "finds that it would be in the public interest for the state to designate certain 'energy infrastructure corridors' along, within, and under major state-owned or state-controlled transportation routes, for the underground collocation of major energy transmission lines necessary to support balanced economic growth, reduce or mitigate high energy prices, and contribute to a cleaner environment, while providing the state with market-based revenue from private energy transmission companies in return for the use of such designated energy infrastructure corridors."

Designated are Interstate 89 between I-93 and the Vermont border, Interstate 93 between the Massachusetts and Vermont borders, and Interstate 95 between the Massachusetts and Maine borders.

The bill would not mandate burial of future transmission lines.

Voting to bring HB 626 back were Ford and Brown and state Reps. Brad Bailey, R-Monroe; Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton; Paul Ingbretson, R-Pike; Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill; Linda Massimilla, D-Littleton; Wayne Moynihan, D-Dummer; Laurence Rappaport, R-Colebrook; Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster; John Tholl, R-Whitefield; and John Fothergill, R-Colebrook.

 Voting to keep it tabled were State Rep. Herb Richardson, R-Lancaster, and state Rep. Edmond Gionet, R-Lincoln.

On Thursday, Richardson said it's not a bill specifically about Northern Pass and he voted against it because burial along the state's main arteries would "kill the tourist industry" during construction and ultimately result in higher costs for utility rate payers because utility companies would have to pay the cost to widen the shoulders of the highways, where the lines would go.

 "If they do move the highway, it would be at ratepayer expense and we pay too much now," he said.

Richardson also said, "To dig the roads up will only affect upstate and the tourist industry."

Rappaport, who in past years sponsored similar bills encouraging transmission line burial, disagreed and said, "Just the opposite. Tourists aren't going to go to some place that's ugly."

 Cost-effective burial technology is available and the bill proposed "makes sense for the whole state," said Rappaport.

For those who want to buy property in the state, designated energy corridors would give them piece of mind in that towers and lines will not go near their property and reduce its value, he said.

Of HB 626 getting off the table, Rappaport said, "I'm on cloud nine on that one."

The bill now goes to House Finance Committee before it goes back to the full House and then, if passing a full House vote, to the N.H. Senate.

 In August, after years of fighting against buried line, Northern Pass announced it would bury 52 miles of its proposed 192-mile line that would stretch from the Canadian border to Deerfield.

 Opponents of overhead lines, citing adverse impacts to property values, tourism and the region's scenic beauty, say the company can feasibly bury all of it, but is unwilling because of profit or property tax reasons.