September 25, 2013LANCASTER — Utility expert George "Skip" Sansoucy met Friday in a work session with members of the county delegation to bat around some concepts and preliminary language to fix a lawed utility tax law.
They wished to ensure that already signed Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) agreements for renewable energy projects in Millsfield and Dixville covering the Granite Reliable Power wind farm and the Burgess BioPower wood-burning renewable electricity-generating plant in the City of Berlin do not end up with taxpayers getting far higher tax bills because of changes in how the Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) values these facilities.
Rep. Robert Theberge, a Democrat of Berlin, plans to be the prime sponsor of an amendment to existing legislation that would hold taxpayers harmless in the Unincorporated Places (UPs) of Millsfield and Dixville as well as in all UPs in Coös, Grafton and Carroll Counties.
Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Democrat of Dalton, plans to be prime sponsor of two amendments to existing legislation, Sansoucy explained.
The first would keep Berlin's beleaguered taxpayers from being saddled with what Sansoucy believes could total millions of dollars over 22 years because of how the DRA believes it must value renewable energy facilities, even though they have PILT agreements in place.
The second amendment that Woodburn is carefully considering sponsoring would ensure that if any new electric, gas, water, oil, telecommunications utility or utility-type transmission facility is located in an Unincorporated Place in the future, the county, as the governing body of that UP, could enter into a PILT agreement, based on its full and true fair market value.
"After all," Sansoucy said, "this would keep a utility, such as the proposed Northern Pass project that has some miles slated to be built in the UPS, from not paying any taxes at all, this because the tax rate is usually zero due to the timber tax collected every year in forested tracts."
This legislation now in an early-stage draft would allow the county to benefit financially from Northern Pass should it end up going through Coös, even though it is not a "renewable generation facility," the utility expert explained.
Much of the three-hour work session was spent with Sansoucy acting like a seminar facilitator, bringing everyone onto the same page and drawing on each rep's expertise.
The complications of understanding utility taxes in general, and PILT agreements, M-1s, and the workings of the DRA in particular, as well as being sure that an amendment is Constitutional, would make it hard to pass any of these amendments, agreed the state reps who were on hand: Theberge and Yvonne Thomas, both of Berlin; Wayne Moynihan of Dummer, a practicing attorney; Bill Hatch of Gorham a member of the House Ways and Means Committee; and Leon Rideout of Lancaster who represents floterial District 7.
One plus of both amendments that would apply to existing PILTs is that they were forged when the state was eager to reach 25 percent renewable energy by the year 2025: "25 by 25."
The Berlin project not only was designed to recycle an existing multi-million-dollar boiler but also to help revive the wood industry by providing a market for low-grade wood that will be burned as clean chips to generate electricity.
Theberge pointed out he would have to call another delegation meeting scheduled at a time he could draw a quorum.