State Suggests Higher Values For TransCanada Dams

06/15/10 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot

(Host) Results are in from the re-appraisal of the eight Vermont hydroelectric dams owned by Canadian energy company TransCanada.

Officials say the new suggested values could mean higher tax revenues for towns that host TransCanada property. They could also mean more tax disputes.

VPR's Susan Keese reports.

(Host) The reappraisal was ordered by the legislature in hopes of leveling the playing field for small towns like Concord, where TransCanada owns property.

The town had to pay back money as part of settlement in a recent tax dispute with the Canadian energy giant.

The reappraisal was done by an independent utility appraiser.

Bill Johnson of the Vermont Department of Taxes  says assessing properties like these is extremely complicated.

(Johnson) "Because really it all comes down to how much money they're making and that is determined by what the electric markets are."

(Keese) Electricity prices have been down, which means the dams are making less money.  But Johnson says the calculations also consider future earning potential, among other factors.

(Johnson)"So there's some room for disagreement for sure, but I think our appraiser came up with good values, without trying to hit the bleeding edge in terms of what the highest possible value could be."

(Keese) Johnson says in almost all cases the new numbers are higher than the towns' currently listed values.  He says the goal was to come up with "defensible" valuations that towns can choose to adopt or not.

In Rockingham, where the Bellows Falls Dam makes up a third of the local tax base, officials are considering what to do.

Rockingham has already notified TransCanada of its 2011 assessment, based on a 2006 valuation by an appraiser hired by the town. That assessment, which TransCanada has contested, is $20 million higher than the state's numbers.

But Rockingham lister Camilla Roberts says the Grand List isn't finalized yet.

(Roberts) "We're certainly considering the state appraisal. We're looking at it. It was well done."

(Keese) Officials at TransCanada have complained that the state singled out their firm and no others for reappraisal.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha says the company hasn't yet received a final copy of the appraisal. He says, until the company has time to analyze the data it would be inappropriate to comment.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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