News Update for July 16, 2013

July 16, 2013
Opposition writers on the warpath: recent Op Eds and LTEs in Southern NH, CT, Quebec
Please send links to other OpEds and LTEs that you know about and we don’t.
Lee Ann Moulder
Union Leader: “Bury the entire Northern Pass project”
To the Editor: As I listened to Brian “The Bulldog” Tilton discuss the statement of PSNH CEO Gary Long, who announced Northern Pass’s new route, it seemed to me that once again Long and his rapacious partners are attempting to push their miserable project down New Hampshire’s throat.
For the first time, the NP executives acknowledged the Northern Pass can be buried, even though their proposal includes only eight miles of burial. Long stated the eight miles will cost an additional $200 million, including burial and design work, or $25 million a buried mile. Figures detailed for the burial of the Northeast Energy Link (Maine-New Hampshire-Massachusetts) and Champlain Hudson (Montreal-New York) total $8.7 million and $5.75 million a buried mile, respectively, when in similar terrain.
Would somebody please give Gary Long the telephone number for those projects’ design teams so he could save some money and stop saying it costs 10 times as much for burial. Would someone also tell Gary Long that he is insulting the residents of New Hampshire when he has the audacity to say that burying eight miles out of 187 miles is a compromise. Bury the entire Northern Pass.
Nancy Martin
Concord Monitor and Montreal Gazette: “Opinion: Hydro-Québec should bury its proposed Northern Pass power line”
Dolly McPhaul
Seacoast Online/Portsmouth Herald and Nashua Telegraph: “How Dare They?”
Susan Schibanoff
Fosters (Dover): “Northern Pass Advocates Trying to Do It Again”
Brian Tilton
The Day, New Haven CT: “NH doesn’t need or want this power line”
Union Leader editorial: “Buried lines and compromise”
“There are benefits and drawbacks to the Northern Pass project, which would bring hydropower to the New England grid via transmission lines run from Canada to Deerfield. The obvious drawback, and the reason the project is so controversial, is that Northern Pass wants to cut a path for new power lines through part of the scenic North Country. Residents are rightly concerned about the impact on their views, their property values, their livelihoods and their quality of life.”
“Northern Pass fires back at critic,” by Martin Murray, who ducks another challenge to debate the opposition
Comment by jimdannis:
Mr. Murray says the public conversation on Northern Pass “must be driven by facts, not misinformation”? What a joke.
Northern Pass and its spokespeople shovel out to the public and markets an information feed that is the very definition of materially misleading. NP’s claims about jobs, taxes, emissions, other environmental impacts, route design, alternatives, energy diversity, “clean” energy — to name just several — contain clear, demonstrable, material misstatements or omissions of fact.
Mr. Murray, if you disagree with me, would you be willing to accept my longstanding invitation to a one-on-one public debate about the project? No, of course you wouldn’t. In your position it would be no fun at all to have to talk in detail about the actual facts.
Responsible Energy Action and others have documented NP’s “just make it up and keep saying it again and again” disclosure policy numerous times.
Mr. Murray and others at Northern Pass have carefully hidden behind scripted press releases and interviews and stayed away from the give and take of real-time discussion and debate.
Many of us look forward to the public meetings on the project for an opportunity to challenge NP’s almost endless litany of misstatements. At public meetings they will have nowhere to hide…
Northern Pass brochure: “We’ve listened”
“Northern Pass Blankets State With Brochure Touting New Route”
“We think we can demonstrate through this mailing and through the coming open house events that the impact visually and environmentally are not to the degree that some of the opponents of the project have insisted that they are,” says Martin Murray, who declined to reveal the cost of the designer brochures mailed to every electricity consumer in the state. Who paid for these? How did Northern Pass get your address?
Reader pans “We’ve Listened”
“New Northern Pass pamphlet is full of biased talking points,” by Tim Carter
More Zombie talking points
On Northern Pass’s “aggressively deceptive” climate benefits claims, by Christophe Courchesne, staff attorney, CLF.
On property taxes and how NH utilities are appealing theirs in droves
New HampshireTowns Battle Big Power Over Taxes
Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
Big utilities, armed with attorneys and money, are taking advantage of cash-strapped towns by misusing New Hampshire’s assessment formula in an effort to significantly cut their assessments, said a utility appraiser.
“We’ve been told by the utilities that one of the reasons for the appeals is they believe the towns do not have the appetite to defend themselves financially,” said Lancaster utility appraiser George Sansoucy.
“Publicly, at least one company has stated they believe they have a favorable Legislature, favorable [Board of Tax and Land Appeals] and favorable courts and now is the time to appeal,” he said. “But they will deny picking on the towns because they are broke.”
While the utilities are pulling out the big guns, towns are fighting back and joining forces to share legal costs.
Haverhill is among four Grafton County municipalities facing a tax abatement lawsuit brought against it by the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative Inc. (NHEC). That case could be heard in superior court as early as August.
In its property tax appeals, NHEC seeks to admit several appraisals created by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) pertaining to the market value of its properties in the towns.
Those appraisals are the 83-F reports, New Hampshire’s utility property tax statute that is the utilities’ contribution to the state education tax, said Chris Boldt, an attorney for some of the towns.
Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), too, wants to admit the 83-F report and has filed 32 individual tax abatement appeals against 31 municipalities with the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals.
Those utilities using the DRA formula are attempting to drive their assessments below fair market value, and if they succeed and set a precedent, the result would be an increase in residential property taxes, said Boldt.
“For the first time, they are actively using the DRA’s report,” said Boldt. “That’s disturbing – you are getting a state report that was created for one purpose being used for another.”
In addition to NHEC and PSNH, scores of appeals have been filed by FairPoint Communications, TDS Telecom, Dunbarton Telephone Co., Granite State Telephone Co., GreatLakes Hydro, Northern Utilities, Portland Pipeline and Hampstead Area Water, Aquarion Water, TransCanada, Unitil, EnergyNorth, DirecTV, New England Hydro Transmission, Granite State Gas Transmission Co., and New England Electric Transmission Corp. (NEET), said Sansoucy.
FairPoint, which is suing more than 100 municipalities across the state, including Haverhill, is challenging the assessments on its telephone poles and conduits, said Sansoucy.
NEET has taken the town of Littleton to court. TransCanada, too, is appealing assessments on its properties up and down the Connecticut River.
At the BTLA, PSNH, partner in the proposed Northern Pass Transmission line, is appealing its assessments in a host of towns that include Bath, Berlin, Bristol, Dalton, Gorham, Lancaster, Landaff, Lincoln, Littleton, Plymouth, Monroe, Randolph, Sandwich and Whitefield.
PSNH and NHEC, according to their appeals, are among the utilities trying to change their method of valuation from fair market value to the unit value employed by the DRA, which uses the unit method to set utility values for the state education tax.
Under that formula, older utility infrastructure is often undervalued, resulting in the state collecting less tax revenue for the state education.
But it is the state’s unit or net book method of valuation that, if utilities are allowed to use it, would decimate essential tax revenue for small towns, said Sansoucy.
“They want to change the method of value to the way the state does it, but the way the state does it will drop the value in half in 12 years and run the value out to zero in approximately 25 years if no new property is built, due to book depreciation and negative net salvage,” he said. “That’s why we have all these appeals.”
Sansoucy said, “The current value they want is about 50 percent of the fair value, in general.”
Haverhill is among more than 20 municipalities across the state whose utility property assessments for the years 2010 through 2012 are being challenged by NHEC.
In its abatement petitions at Grafton Superior Court, NHEC alleges its tax based on the current assessment is “illegal, excessive in amount, disproportionate and unjust.”
Mike Waddell, speaking as an elected official for the town of Gorham who works for Sansoucy’s engineering and appraisal service, said, “Essentially it comes down to this – if your neighbor gets a tax break, you’ve just got a tax increase.
“Everybody believes they deserve a tax break, but the unfortunate part of it is when the biggest players in the room get tax breaks, because they are doing it with big legal firms, there is something very wrong with that,” he said.
If assessments were overvalued, reducing them would be appropriate, he said.
“But when they lose time after time on valuation and come back with more and more lawsuits to force the towns to give up, I don’t see how, ethically, someone can look at that and not see a problem,” said Waddell.
In January, at a meeting of the Berlin City Council, Waddell said many large corporate utilities are making it difficult for municipalities to obtain the information they need to determine valuation.
In its appeals against the towns, NHEC and PSNH are trying to use RSA 83-F, the utility property tax statute, as the basis for the appeals, said Boldt.
In essence, the 83-F report is the utilities contribution to school taxes and is based on a 2010 legislative statement of intent, he said.
“The report is solely for the 83-F tax and should not be used against the towns,” said Boldt.
The unit method, however, is a “completely erroneous” method of valuation that in the coming years could cut utility tax revenue in towns by up to 80 percent, said Sansoucy, who has been hired by the towns as an expert in the case.
In an April filing in the case, NHEC attorney Margaret Nelson, who is also the attorney for the PSNH appeals, said NHEC seeks the DRA appraisals “not as a ‘new tactic’ to use the DRA’s appraisals against the towns” but as a means to “a constructive dialogue with the towns …”
Nelson and PSNH Tax Director Leonard Gerzon declined to comment on the appeals, referring all questions to company spokesmen.
NHEC and PSNH were contacted, but declined to answer specifically what their ultimate goal is in using the 83-F reports, if they believe the reports reflect a fair market assessment of their properties, and how much, on average and in terms of percentage, the 83-F method of valuation would reduce their assessments in 12 years and again in 25 years in the municipalities they are appealing.
In a statement, NHEC spokesman Seth Wheeler said, “NHEC, like every taxpayer, wants fair and proportional assessments that properly reflect the fair market value of its property. As a member-owned, nonprofit cooperative, it also wants to make sure that the taxes it pays are based on a fair and consistent methodology so that members in one community are not asked to subsidize municipal expenses in another community.”
Wheeler said NHEC brought the current appeals because it believes the towns’ assessments do not meet those methodology standards.
In Dalton, PSNH owns about $3 million worth of property. If the PSNH appeal is successful, that assessment would be reduced by at least 50 percent, said Dalton Selectman Vic St. Cyr.
“It would be a substantial decrease,” said St. Cyr. “It’s compounded annually and is not just the loss of one year, but of the next 10 or 15 years. You’re talking tens of millions of dollars.”
PSNH spokesman Martin Murray, when asked via email, declined to answer how much PSNH seeks to reduce its assessment in Dalton or in the other towns.
In a statement, Murray said, “At PSNH, we always seek to pay our fair share of taxes. On behalf of our customers, we dispute those local valuations that are extreme outliers compared to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue’s assessment of the value of our assets. Ultimately, it’s customers who pay these costs, so we seek to ensure they are fair and reasonable.”
The 83-F report is a simpler methodology that relies on the taxpayer company’s internal information, but does not include, or has very little, market research of comparable sales and no analysis of the actual costs of projects built, said Boldt.
The question that should be asked is are utility properties being valued like other properties in the state and are they being valued at their market value and what they would sell for, said Boldt.
Use of the 83-F report for other than its intention has “an impact on the whole state, in large part because the methodology used in the 83-F report right now is leaving millions on the table and makes no sense,” said Boldt.
“It’s millions for the state under 83-F alone, but also millions for various municipalities,” he said. “Those are schools and roads, those are police officers. Anything the utilities don’t pay is put onto the shoulders of all the other taxpayers.”
The question might ultimately be decided by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, said Boldt.
Meanwhile, municipalities continue to get inundated.
“There’s no let up in appeals,” said Sansoucy. “It’s a free for all.”
Northern Pass a jobs killer
ICYMI, Gary Long has resigned from PSNH, very abruptly. Some think he jumped; many more believe he was pushed. Long says he wants to work full time on Northern Pass. Check back in 6-12 months. That’s about how long Marie T. van Luling, NP’s former VP for Communications who took over from Martin Murray, lasted. She is now employed by H & R Block in Kansas City.
Plugging into Canadian hydro: “Almost too good to be true,” says Gary Long
Here we go again. Remember Seabrook and power so cheap that your meters would run backwards?
“The big question facing New England policymakers is not whether to import Canadian hydro but how it gets tallied once it’s here. Every New England state has responded to climate change by setting targets for greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy development. Massa­chu­setts officials say they want to use Canadian hydro to help the state reach its greenhouse gas goals but not its renewable energy targets. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, by contrast, thinks Canadian hydro can be used to do both.
“Gary Long, the president of the North­east Utilities subsidiary in New Hampshire that wants to build the Northern Pass power line, strikes a very conciliatory pose in his office in Manchester. He says Hydro-Quebec officials only want what’s fair. “As business people, they want to get the full value for their products. That’s a perfectly valid business point of view,” he says.
“But he thinks there is a way for policymakers to provide that full value without disrupting the rest of the renewable energy market. He says the choices are not between hydro and solar, or hydro and wind. “I don’t buy into the either or. I’m into all,” he says. “Canadian hydro is not a threat unless policymakers make it a threat. If New England wants clean, renewable energy and our neighbor has an abundance of it, it’s a natural. It’s good business. It’s almost too good to be true.”
RI’s Gov. Chafee and Hydro Quebec: Old friends part company?
Excerpts from “Hydro on Hold“:
“Governor Chafee has long been an advocate for bringing Canada’s clean, renewable energy to the Ocean State. But instead of going ahead with a bill to facilitate signing up Canadian energy suppliers of hydropower, as Connecticut and other northeastern states have, the governor last month backed off, and punted for a feasibility study.
“Even before he was elected mayor of Warwick, in 1992, Mr. Chafee worked for Canadian Connection, which lobbied on behalf of Hydro Quebec, the provincial utility that has invested heavily over the last four decades in capturing renewable resources in the hopes of exporting it to high-cost energy markets in the northeastern U.S.”
Who is Marc Brown?
“A new mysterious Cape Wind foe”