COLTON — The future looks grim for the homeowners of the town of Colton.
Erie Boulevard Hydropower, a subsidiary of Brookfield Renewable Partners, has petitioned the state Supreme Court for an approximately 50 percent reduction in the assessed value of its six Colton dams. This comes on the heels of a previous reduction Brookfield was given just a few years ago.
Homeowners’ property taxes went up considerably then and will go up considerably more if the reduction sought by Brookfield is granted. The company also has petitioned the court for reductions in the assessed value of its assets in Clifton, Parishville, Pierrepont and Potsdam.
The law firm representing Brookfield is the Syracuse firm Barclay Damon, which counts among its attorneys two state senators and a state assemblyman. Barclay Damon boasts that it “routinely assists energy and utility clients in negotiating tax assessment reductions, resulting in substantial real property tax savings.” The firm fails to mention, of course, that the property taxes are shifted from the firm’s clients onto the shoulders of homeowners such as those of Northern New York, many of them elderly and on Social Security, who are struggling to hold on to their homes in the face of rising property taxes.
The firm’s subsidiary Empire Advocates specializes in state and federal lobbying and declares that the secret to successful lobbying “‘[i]sn’t what you know but who you know’... Empire Advocates has the connections to help get the job done.”
Brookfield can well-afford to avail itself of one of the most politically connected law firms in the state. According to its latest earnings call (Q2 2020), Brookfield Renewable is a “global renewable power business with over $50 billion of operating assets” — of which the Colton dams presumably form a part.
“[O]ur cash flows are highly resilient,” the call continues, “[o]ur liquidity position remains strong with close to $3.4 billion of total available liquidity,” and “we believe the prospects for growth of our business are better than they ever have been.” Brookfield’s hydropower stations are characterized as “perpetual assets,” which enable the company to “issue medium term notes … on the back of a perpetual hydro business.”
Hydroelectric dams are truly the bedrock of Brookfield Renewable’s business as financial analysts have noted. In a January 2020 article, the financial website The Motley Fool enthused that “[t]here’s a lot to like about Brookfield Renewable Partners, but one of its most appealing features is also its most boring business — hydroelectric power. This is, perhaps, the oldest form of renewable power, but it’s also one of the most reliable. Water levels have an impact on it. But largely it just keeps going and going without fail, which makes it usable as a base-load power source. Hydroelectric accounts for roughly 75 percent of the partnership’s generating capacity today.”
Yet Brookfield is seeking from the town of Colton still another and much greater reduction in assessed value of these most lucrative of assets. These are poised to become even more valuable under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires that 70 percent of electricity consumed in the state come from renewable energy by 2030.
Brookfield also is petitioning the court to order that “refunds be paid ... of all excess taxes paid” by Brookfield, “with interest thereon.” How many millions of dollars will this amount to?
And to add insult to injury, Brookfield is asking that the town of Colton pay “the costs and disbursements” of the proceedings. The homeowners of Colton must pay the costs of their own dispossession!
The company’s strategy is clear: Demand reduction after reduction until it gets the assessed value of the Colton dams down to zero so that the riches it realizes from its exploitation of the Raquette River — one of the most heavily-dammed rivers in the state — can be booked as pure profit.
Brookfield’s mailed fist is about to come crashing down on the homeowners of Colton. And given the company’s connections and the unlimited resources it can devote to lawsuits, it is uncertain whether the town’s residents will be able to prevent the transfer of their savings into Brookfield’s coffers.
Kevin Beary is a Colton resident. He is a retired English professor who taught at the University of Florence in Italy.