Frontpage
Facebook

21nygas1 print superJumbo v2

Residential buildings in Yonkers, one of the cities and towns in Westchester County where Con Edison, the main utility, has imposed a moratorium on new natural gas hookups.

Credit
John Taggart for The New York Times

Across the suburbs north of New York City, clusters of luxury towers are rising around commuter rail stations, designed to lure young workers seeking easy access to Manhattan. In all, 16,000 apartments and condominiums are in the works in more than a dozen towns, along with spaces for restaurants and shops.

But the boom unfolding in Westchester County is under threat — not from any not-in-my-backyard opposition or a slumping real estate market.

Instead, it is coming from something unexpected: a lack of natural gas.

Con Edison, the region’s main utility, says its existing network of pipelines cannot satisfy an increasing demand for the fuel.

As a result, the utility has taken the extreme step of imposing a moratorium on new gas hookups in a large swath of Westchester, including for residential buildings planned in Yonkers, White Plains and New Rochelle. The only other places in the country with similar restrictions are in Massachusetts, gas industry officials said.

“It’s just a question of how people are going to be able to heat their homes and cook their food with the energy that’s available right now,’’ said Michael Clendenin, a spokesman for Con Ed.

There is an ample supply of natural gas in the United States, but opposition to building or expanding interstate pipelines has caused delivery challenges in the Northeast, according to industry officials. Two counties in western Massachusetts have had a moratorium on new gas hookups since 2014.

In Westchester, Con Ed’s moratorium, which is primarily concentrated in the southern section of the county, has set off anger and panic among developers and elected leaders who say it has left dozens of projects in limbo, creating uncertainty about housing, jobs and the area’s economic future.

“I’m still traumatized by the last decade when we had a head of steam and it all fell apart due to the economy,” said Noam Bramson, the mayor of New Rochelle, where dozens of projects are under construction or planned. “There are windows of opportunity when you can accomplish something and windows can close quickly.’’

In Yonkers, a developer has offered the city $16 million to buy a municipal parking lot and turn it into a complex with housing, shopping and a hotel. But the deal has yet to close and the city’s mayor, Mike Spano, is concerned that without access to gas the developer may pull out.

00nygas2 superJumbo

Mike Spano, the mayor of Yonkers, fears that the moratorium will endanger development that he says is creating housing and jobs and helping revitalize his city.
Credit
John Taggart for The New York Times

 

The developer, Michael Mitnick, declined to comment on the project’s fate, but said other options, like green heating technology, can be less reliable and more expensive.

“You do not want to get too fancy or too creative with major building systems,’’ he said.

But Con Ed’s decision has also been met with deep skepticism — many elected leaders and residents question whether the utility is creating a crisis to make it easier to win approval from the Cuomo administration for new pipelines. State regulators with the power to force Con Ed to lift the moratorium are reviewing the situation.

“This would be a good game of chicken, especially when the target is lower Westchester,” Mr. Spano said. “If you want to get the governor’s attention, this is the way to do it.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lives in Mount Kisco, a town included in Con Edison’s moratorium, and wants the state to move away from fossil fuels toward cleaner energy, like wind. He has banned fracking, a process to extract gas from shale rock, and two years ago his administration rejected a major interstate pipeline project, saying its construction would endanger wetlands.

That rejection, Con Ed officials said, cast a chill over the gas industry and has made it difficult for the utility to entice any pipeline developers willing to build in Westchester. State officials also turned down a proposal by Con Ed to help finance a new pipeline, utility officials said.

“The market changed,’’ Mr. Clendenin said. “Investors were no longer willing to take the risk.’’

But Mr. Cuomo’s office said Con Ed was seeking to make excuses for its failure to anticipate market changes in Westchester.

“The current issues these localities are facing are a result of poor planning by the utilities,” said Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for the governor. “Con Edison never even proposed new infrastructure or alternative solutions that would have adequately met increased demand for certain products prior to announcing its moratorium.”

In response to the moratorium, the state recently announced a package of incentives, including grants, for developers and residents in Westchester seeking clean-energy systems.

Considered a cheaper and less polluting alternative to heating oil, natural gas consumption nationwide increased 30 percent between 2009 and 2016, said Lori Traweek, chief operations officer for the American Gas Association. But efforts to transport more gas to the Northeast from other parts of the country, especially from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have been blocked over safety and environmental worries.

“Is it better or worse to have a pipeline?” Ms. Traweek said. “Without it, you are taking away consumers’ affordable choice, potentially increasing emissions and reducing reliability. That doesn’t seem like a good energy policy.”

merlin 151469079 0644e9c1 5614 496a 90d1 8f03283699c4 superJumbo

Con Ed says its existing network of pipelines cannot meet a growing demand for natural gas in a large swath of Westchester.
Credit
John Taggart for The New York Times

 

Con Ed says its existing network of pipelines cannot meet a growing demand for natural gas in a large swath of Westchester.CreditJohn Taggart for The New York Times

In New York, the state Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities, is investigating Con Ed’s claims about the natural gas situation in Westchester and plans to issue its findings in July. It could overturn the moratorium, require Con Ed to find an additional gas supply or allow the moratorium to stand.

“The P.S.C. is committed to ensuring reliable, safe and affordable energy for New Yorkers, and considers all proposals from utilities to meet that need on the merits,” said James Denn, a commission spokesman.

The tension in Westchester touches on a wider debate about climate change, fossil fuels, renewable energy and environmental policy.

National Grid — a utility that supplies natural gas to 1.8 million customers in Brooklyn and parts of Queens, as well as on Long Island and Staten Island — is seeking the state’s approval to build a 24-mile pipeline from New Jersey through lower New York Bay.

“We cannot continue to sign up customers for new service if we don’t have the supply to back it up,” said John Bruckner, a top executive at National Grid.

In Westchester, developers rushed to submit applications for gas hookups before the moratorium went into effect on March 15. About 900 applications were submitted and Con Ed will notify applicants in the coming weeks if their requests have been approved.

Joe Apicella, managing director of MacQuesten Development, was one of the applicants. His company plans to build a 28-story residential tower in New Rochelle that will also include a new city hall and firehouse.

“To shut the spigot off entirely without a well-thought-out plan is just irresponsible,’’ Mr. Apicella said. “It’s a monopoly. You can’t go to company B.”

Dr. Courtney M. Williams, who lives in Peekskill and is a founder of Safe Energy Rights Group, an environmental group, said the moratorium should lead to a broader discussion about climate change and greener energy policies.

“Any investment in pipeline infrastructure is locking us into a fossil fuel future,” Dr. Williams said. “These companies have invested millions in antiquated infrastructure. The writing is on the wall. It is really clear that we need to invest in renewable energy.”

JLCNY Calendar

No events

Recent Stories

Newsletter Signup!

Signup and stay informed.

View Past Newsletters
Joomla Extensions powered by Joobi
Donations