TransCanada’s Hydroelectric Holdings To Be Reappraised

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(Host) Property tax disputes with TransCanada Hydro Northeast are creating uncertainty in some towns where the Canadian company’s dams and property are located.

Officials hope a state funded reappraisal of TransCanada’s hydroelectric holdings in Vermont will help clear the air.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) The Bellows Falls dam has historically made up a third of Rockingham’s tax base – and half the tax base in the village of Bellows Falls.

But at town meeting last week, Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee mentioned that it’s still unknown how much property tax the town can count on from the dam’s owner.

(MacPhee) "There is no agreement with TransCanada. We met on Friday and they still want to work with us, but we’re miles apart at this point."

(Keese) Rockingham is at the end of a three-year agreement with TransCanada that was reached after an initial dispute over the town’s assessment of the hydro dam. The town lowered the appraisal number and TransCanada agreed in return to make three million dollars in "side payments" to the village and town.

TransCanada bought the system of Hydro Dams in 2005. Rockingham battled the dam’s previous owner all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court over property taxes.

MacPhee says the town has a "pretty good rapport" with the new owners. Cleve Kapala, of TransCanada Hydro Northeast expects that to continue.

(Kapala) "From TransCanada’s view, we’re optimistic that we’ll find agreement with Rockingham again. That’s the win-win way to do it is by negotiation."

(Keese) But Kapala says TransCanada has been affected by the recession and it’s trying to control costs.

He says the company earned half as much for generating power in 2009 as it did in 2008.

(Kapala) "And that will be the nub of the challenge, I mean the plants are obviously worth less today than they were pre recession and pre-oversupply of electricity."

(Keese) Agreement on taxes has been elusive in some Connecticut River towns. And in some cases millions are at stake.

Later this month, a three-year legal battle between TransCanada and Littleton, New Hampshire, will go to binding arbitration over the value of the Moore Hydro-electric Station.

If things don’t go the town’s way, the Caledonian Record says, Littleton could owe TransCanada $5 million in overpaid taxes.

The town of Concord in the Northeast Kingdom went to court with TransCanada last spring and lost over its appraisal of land the company uses for flood control.

Concord lister Lorain Rainey says the decision resulted in a major tax hike.

(Rainey) "In our case, we lost big"

(Keese) Concord was one of a group of Northeast Kingdom towns that asked their local legislators for help.

Jane Kitchel represents the area in the state Senate.

(Kitchel) "This precipitated a discussion about… a need to really bring our appraisals up to date. And for the state of course there is a big financial interest between the state education fund and local municipal budgets."

(Keese) The legislature authorized $200,000 for a new appraisal of all of TransCanada’s hydroelectric holdings in Vermont.

The last statewide appraisal of all the Connecticut and Deerfield River Dams is almost ten years old.

The re-appraisal is currently underway and should be ready in May or June, in time for towns to use – if they so choose — to back up their 2011 tax assessments.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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