Now that the reality has begun to sink in that there will be no magic bullet, no magic wand waved to prevent Consolidated Edison from refusing to add new customers (like hotels, apartment buildings, etc.) to its natural gas distribution system in Westchester County, NY, politicians and business leaders in the county are beginning to soil themselves. Certainly metaphorically–maybe literally.


We continue to laugh AT the so-called leaders of Westchester County. One of their own residents, Andy Cuomo, is the cause of the coming economic destruction in the county. Yet they refuse to acknowledge it.

We’ve covered this story extensively over the past month or so (see our Westchester County stories here). Until now the stories we’ve read in mainstream news portray Westchester County officials in various forms of denial. Like, “This really isn’t happening, is it?” And, “Somehow the state, Cuomo, someone will tell Con Ed to back off. It’ll happen any day now.” That’s the kind of reaction we’ve read–until now.

Finally those living in Westchester are coming to terms with the fact that their county’s economy is about to take a HUGE hit–because Con Ed can’t fabricate natural gas out of thin air to meet the increasing demand:

Yonkers officials celebrated in October when it appeared the city finally had a developer ready to build on a 6-acre patch of its downtown called Chicken Island, which has sat vacant for decades. Four months later, they are warning that Con Edison’s natural gas moratorium could snuff out the plan.

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said “as soon as the potential developers of Chicken Island heard of the gas moratorium, they expressed to us that, unequivocally, moving ahead with this moratorium will stop their development. Period.”

Developer AMS Acquisitions LLC, a Manhattan firm, agreed to buy the property from the city last year for $16 million. The company promised a plan featuring shopping, dining, apartment buildings and a luxury hotel for the site behind City Hall.

But Chicken Island is just one of many development opportunities Westchester County elected officials fret could be lost or at least delayed during a natural gas moratorium in Westchester County. Con Edison says demand has outpaced its capacity to get natural gas into its lower county service area, requiring the company to pause all new natural gas connections starting March 15.

The proposed moratorium has flipped perception in Westchester’s largest cities. Public officials in Yonkers, New Rochelle and White Plains have spent the past couple years touting the large number of apartments planned for their cities. They now list the same numbers to lament what could be lost.

“I’ve seen what happens on the development side of things,” said White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach. “A window opens and a window closes.”

Both Roach and Spano, through an office representative, testified to the potential costs of the moratorium at a public hearing hosted Feb. 13 in White Plains by the state’s utility regulator, the Public Service Commission.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said his office has compiled a list of commercial development projects that could be halted in the moratorium. Without natural gas, 16,000 new apartments and condos and 2 million square feet of new commercial development could be at risk. His office estimates the lost development could cost the county 28,500 construction jobs, 48,000 residents and more than $600 million in rental income.

“Developers that are looking at Westchester County for any type of construction–residential, commercial of any sort–will be dealing with one county that has a moratorium and no other area that does,” Latimer said at the public hearing.

The moratorium, he said, gives an advantage to “Long Island, Fairfield County, the Hudson Valley and northern New Jersey, all at the expense of Westchester County.”

Con Edison has told developers and public officials that new gas connections will be approved until the utility decides it has reached capacity, which could happen before the March 15 cut off. That’s created a race to get in before the gas runs out. A Con Edison spokesperson said the utility has received more than 580 requests for natural gas connections since the announcement, twice the normal rate of incoming requests compared with the same period in the past two years.

Patrick Lynch, president of OLA Consulting Engineers in Hawthorne, said his firm has worked on about a dozen applications ahead of the moratorium for developers and other commercial builders. His firm has sped up the typical timeline in each case to provide estimates of expected gas load to Con Edison.

“For a developer these are little costs, but they are costs they are incurring earlier in the project than they would have without this March 15 deadline,” Lynch said.

Con Edison has state approval to launch a $223 million effort aimed at boosting the use of heat pumps and gas efficiency measures in the region. OLA Consulting plans to explore gas alternatives such as all electric options and geothermal heating. But Lynch said there can be challenges for each option and the best alternative will vary by project.

“It really limits people’s options not having gas,” Lynch said. “If you talk about a 15- to 20 story apartment building in New Rochelle and White Plains, you really want to have that gas option.”

There is one type of gas service Con Edison will approve even in the moratorium. The utility will still connect new buildings if they use interruptible service, an option that allows Con Edison to switch the building to oil on peak days. The option is utilized mostly by large commercial or industrial facilities, but isn’t particularly common. Less than one percent of Con Edison’s 1.1 million natural gas customers are interruptible, according to the utility.

There has been plenty of finger pointing among elected officials as the March 15 deadline nears. Democratic state Assembly members Amy Paulin and David Buchwald slammed the PSC at the White Plains hearing, arguing the regulatory board did not give the public proper notice of the potential for a moratorium. County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, a Democrat representing Hastings-on-Hudson, added that Con Edison had “bungled the situation” and placed the economic health of Westchester’s communities at risk.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken heat as well. The editorial boards of The Wall Street Journal and New York Post described the moratorium as a consequence of his opposition to natural gas pipelines in the state.

Latimer, meanwhile, is calling on the state PSC to work with Con Edison to delay the March 15 deadline. (1)

Still some denial there (get the PSC to order Con Ed to delay the moratorium), but it appears Westchester is finally waking up to their nightmare reality.

The New York Post also picked up on this theme with a guest post titled, “The price of Cuomo’s war on natural gas is only starting to kick in”:

New Yorkers experienced the headache caused by Gov. Cuomo’s crusade against natural gas last week, when a public hearing was held to discuss Con Edison’s January announcement that it would institute a moratorium on accepting new gas customers in Westchester County.

The Empire State has stymied the construction of the necessary transmission infrastructure, so Con Ed is unable to keep up with demand. In addition to his decision to ban hydraulic fracturing in 2014 — aborting any hope that New York could profit from some of its most valuable natural resources — Cuomo and his regulators have denied necessary permits for three separate natural-gas pipeline projects.

National Grid may soon follow Con Ed’s lead. Imagine: A major utility company is prepared to turn away potential customers, not ­because it wants to, but because Cuomo and his allies refuse to admit the need for ­energy supplied by natural gas. And because they’re equally in denial about natural gas’ environmental benefits.

You won’t hear much about it from environmentalists or the green-energy crowd, but the rise of American natural gas — a fossil fuel, no less — is one of the great ecological success stories of the last 30 years. Hydraulic fracturing has unleashed vast new supplies of natural gas, rendering it relatively cheap.

The cost savings largely explain why the nation’s electricity suppliers switched to natural gas, and ­because gas burns more cleanly than coal, its rise has been accompanied by a dramatic reduction in pollution and in America’s carbon footprint. US greenhouse-gas emissions have decreased 12 percent since 2005, and the switch to natural gas accounts for most of the improvement.

Of course, green activists have been pretending for years that solar and wind energy were the magic bullets that could de-carbonize America. But it turned out that the answer all along was clean-burning natural gas. In fact, data from the Energy Information Administration shows that, in 2016, New York relied more on natural gas for its energy needs than on coal, nuclear power and hydropower combined. Simply put, the Empire State runs on clean natural gas.

You would think that, under these circumstances, environmentally conscious politicians like Cuomo would embrace natural gas and happily cooperate with utilities like Con Edison, which depend on state approval for the construction of new gas pipelines and associated infrastructure projects.

Unfortunately, Cuomo and his regulators are more concerned about currying favor with extremist environmental groups than they are with fulfilling New York’s ­energy needs, even if doing so is compatible with lowering carbon emissions. Among the eco-radicals, fossil fuels are the new third rail, and every project involving oil or natural gas is inherently suspect.

The sad part is that Con Ed’s moratorium in Westchester County could be just the beginning of New York’s energy headaches. The state’s hostility to new natural-gas pipelines threatens to create energy shortages in the Big Apple, one of the largest energy markets in the country.

Will it take ordinary New Yorkers setting their thermostats to “lukewarm,” or the shuttering of offices and businesses because of a lack of power and heat, to convince Cuomo and other state leaders that action must finally be taken?

Already, Cuomo’s short-sightedness has cost New Yorkers dearly. New York’s Southern Tier sits above the Marcellus Shale, which is estimated to have the largest ­resource base of natural gas in the United States. But instead of capitalizing on this bounty, New York banned hydraulic fracturing.

Pennsylvania, which shares Marcellus with New York, shows New Yorkers what might have been: The Keystone State has become the second largest natural-gas-producing state in the Union. Meanwhile, since 2012, natural-gas impact fees have generated $1.5 billion in state revenue, including almost $500 million earmarked for environmental conservation. Energy development has also created 300,000 jobs.

Perhaps un-banning hydraulic fracturing is a bridge too far for Albany, but Cuomo should admit the obvious: New York needs natural gas, and so the infrastructure to deliver it to consumers should be allowed by the state. And if Cuomo won’t come to his senses, the federal government must reform the permitting process to stop New York and other states from frivolously blocking needed energy ­infrastructure.

Nicholas Waddy is an associate professor of history at Alfred State College, SUNY. (2)

Our message to Westchester: Welcome to the economic malaise we’ve experienced in the Southern Tier under Cuomo for the last decade. Now it’s your turn to live under the results of his policies. We hope you enjoy it.

(1) White Plains (NY) (Feb 20, 2019) – Westchester officials eye impacts of Con Ed’s natural gas moratorium on construction projects

(2) New York (NY) Post (Feb 21, 2019) – The price of Cuomo’s war on natural gas is only starting to kick in

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