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By Mark Harrington
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Updated October 2, 2019 8:11 PM

Six Long Island Democratic state senators on Wednesday urged the state’s top environmental official to approve a contested natural gas pipeline “on an emergency basis” if certain conditions are met, just days after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo publicly expressed his opposition to it.

The lawmakers, led by Sen. Todd Kaminisky (D-Long Beach), who chairs the Senate’s environmental conservation committee, argued in a letter to the state Department of Environmental Conservation that a moratorium enacted by the pipeline’s chief backer, National Grid, has “already impacted thousands of our constituents.”

Kaminsky declined to comment beyond the senators’ letter, which was also signed by Long Island State Sens. John Brooks, James Gaughran, Anna Kaplan, Monica Martinez and Kevin Thomas.

The request to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos asks for “conditional” approval of the pipeline, which the DEC has twice rejected on environmental grounds.

The senators said the pipeline should be approved only after an independent body — “not National Grid” — finds that the additional gas supply is truly needed to meet the state’s energy safety and reliability needs. They also asked that the amount of gas allowed from the pipeline be “scaled back” to align with “the increased availability of cleaner, renewable alternatives over time,” and that proceeds from the pipeline’s use be used for renewable investments to more quickly meet the state’s green-energy goals.

National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young, in a statement, said the company believes the pipeline “is vital and necessary to provide consumers with access to natural gas supplies,” which it called the “most cost-effective and environmentally sound heating option available to heat homes and run businesses.”

Young also said the company continues to work with the Public Service Commission in its investigation on “customer connection issues and the need for the additional gas supply to serve the needs of new and existing customers.”

National Grid has argued it needs the $1 billion pipeline to head off a looming natural gas shortage but opponents, chiefly in the environmental community, say the crisis has been largely made up so the company can guarantee a long-term fossil fuel future.

Cuomo, speaking on the Brian Lehrer radio program last month, took a stand against the pipeline, and has ordered a stepped-up investigation into National Grid’s claims of a shortage and its denial of service to certain customers.

“We have taken a position: We’re against the pipeline,” Cuomo told the radio host. “That’s our position. DEC has considered it, and they are resubmitting additional information. But there’s no negotiation. If they’re extorting people, and wrongfully turning off gas service to homes to create political pressure, I’m not negotiating over that. That’s extortion. That’s a crime.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo, in a statement released after the senators’ letter was circulated, noted that a decision on the pipeline’s state permit is “pending with DEC, which has made clear through its previous denial that it will not compromise on our water quality standards."

Further, Cuomo's spokesperson said, "National Grid is going to be held accountable by the PSC if it finds they inappropriately denied service to their existing customers.”

State Senate Republican leader John Flanagan was quick to pounce on his Democratic rivals’ plan. “Today, months after their leadership was sorely needed on the Williams pipeline project, these Long Island Democrats finally say it should be approved on an ‘emergency basis,’ whatever that means,” Flanagan said in a statement.

He accused the Democrats of remaining “silent during the entire application process, threatening billions of dollars of investment,” and concluded their policies “are only going to make things worse.”

A spokesperson for the DEC didn’t immediately comment.

Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project, an activist group that opposes the pipeline, criticized the senators’ stance, and expressed shock that Kaminsky signed the letter.

“This is not aligned with how Kaminsky presents himself as a climate champion,” Fraczek said. “I don’t think rolling over for a corporation so they can get their way is the way to show that we are ready to move to a renewable economy that’s rooted in justice and getting his constituents better jobs.”

The senators aren’t the only local Democrats calling for the pipeline. Their letter follows by several days a joint opinion piece by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran expressing support for the pipeline. “The two of us believe strongly that without access to natural gas, there will be significant disruption for both the economy and the environment,” they wrote in support of the pipeline in a opinion piece in the Daily News. “The Williams pipeline will help us ensure that the historic progress we are making is not halted.”

Even while asking for approval of the pipeline on an emergency basis, the senators' letter pointed to the legislature’s recent approval of legislation that requires all electric generation in the state to be carbon-free by 2040. The law “sets hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions, effectively eliminating the long-term reliance on fossil fuels, including natural gas.”

But, they noted, their constituents in the near term “continue to need natural gas as a cleaner transition energy source.” Many have “had their lives disrupted.”

One of them is Sean Pryor, who recently bought a home in Amityville, only to discover the natural gas was turned off. National Grid, after initially indicating it would restore service, ultimately declined, citing the moratorium, Pryor said. He faces a winter without gas heat and finding an expensive alternative such as propane or electric.

“I have a bunch of bad options,” for heat this winter and “I don’t know if I’m ever going to get gas,” Pryor said, adding that he’s filed a complaint against National Grid with the state Department of Public Service. “We’re just a bunch of pawns.”

As I'm sure you know, there is an ongoing battle in New York that pits the Andrew Cuomo administration against the natural gas, utilities, and pipeline industries. The latest saga involves a blockade of pipelines forcing Consolidated Edison and National Grid plan to quit providing new gas connections to customers in and around the New York City service area. State regulators are investigating, with the Northeast Supply Enhancement being the key pipeline in that fight.

The first thing to know is that natural gas is New York’s main source of energy, at 1,280 Trillion Btu, or double what second place gasoline offers. Secondly, in 2018, natural gas led and generated 40% of New York’s electricity. You’re right: The story of a gas devouring state having anti-gas policies is predictably one that doesn’t end well

The planned closure of Indian Point in 2021 signals little hope for nuclear, and hydro power also face retirements since the fleet’s average age is almost 60 years old. So ultimately, New York’s energy future lies in an old fashioned shootout between gas, wind, and solar power. The reality though is that all three will be important, in many ways working together, with gas remaining the linchpin.

Looking forward, however, I'd continue to bet on natural gas. At some 5 GW, New York has added more five times more gas capacity than all other sources combined over the past decade. Gas is now over half of the state's total power capacity. Just recently, the 0.650 Bcf/d Constitution pipeline was given new life when FERC ruled 4-0 that state regulators had waived the authority under the Clean Water Act "to issue or deny a water quality certification."

Today, wind (3%) and solar (1%) provide 4% of the state’s electricity. Scaling up so much renewables to displace gas will not be as easy as some are claiming. Onshore wind, for instance, the longtime go-to source for more renewable power, will not be leaned on all that much. For example, the new law calls for New York to have 6 GW of installed solar power capacity by 2025 from about 1.7 GW now, and 9 GW of offshore wind power by 2035 from zero now. This would still be well below the 20 GW that gas has now.

Offshore wind is getting more pushback from environmentalists than commonly gets reported. For example, offshore projects are being fought by the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and commercial fishing groups from New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Importantly, the U.S. Department of Energy projects basically no offshore capacity being added anywhere. With New York as the fourth cloudiest state in the country, solar power might disappoint more than anticipated as well.

But, even if all that wind and solar capacity gets built it still doesn't displace natural gas. Renewables are “uncontrollable” supply resources: when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, there's no energy produced. This means lower capacity factors, where the share of actual generation is regularly less than the share of capacity. Indeed, NYISO reports wind in New York at a capacity factor of 26%, with solar at 14% - both of which are below the national average. Natural gas, meanwhile, is in the 80-90% range.

That's because the dispatch of gas-fueled power plants can easily be controlled, ramped up and down as needed to offer great reliability. This means that to produce the same amount of power as generated by a gas plant we need 4-5 times the installed capacity of wind or solar capacity. This "almost always available" versus "usually unavailable" reality explains why cost comparisons between gas versus wind and solar aren't real. On the battlefield of dispatching consumable electricity then, they simply don't provide the same service.

Yes, costs, higher costs, are an essential something leadership in New York, California, New England, and elsewhere continue to ignore. The blocking of gas pipelines. means that New Yorkers aren’t benefiting from this low-cost, low-carbon fuel Many places are facing moratoriums on new gas hookups. In 2018, New York’s power rates are about 50% higher than the national average. This helps explain why New York has routinely been ranked 49th "best U.S. state for business" by Chief Executive Magazine, just better than even higher cost California. And utility-scale renewables like offshore wind, if located away from demand zones, could further increase transmissions costs. Indeed, the state's own policies will continue to increase energy prices.

Also increasing costs more than advertised, wind and solar aren't standalone sources like gas, so they will be paired with energy storage such as batteries, hopefully creating a hybrid power plant but also upping costs. Lots of the technology needed to cut statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050 isn’t even commercially available yet. Experts at MIT find that storage costs must drop by 90% to be competitive. Meanwhile, "Why U.S. Natural Gas Prices Will Remain Low."

Policy wise, the reality is that much of the renewable build-out is driven by federal subsidies and state-level mandates. History shows that when the tax credits dry up, new installations plummet. Some of the proposals out there are wildily unpopular, even in the most progressive states: "Washington State voters reject carbon tax." Worse for the environment, by locking out more natural gas, New York's shortages of gas will hinder the state’s progress in switching buildings away from fuel oil and therefore slow efforts to reduce emissions. The International Energy Agency, our OECD energy adviser, has constantly touted the environmental benefits of more gas: "Elizabeth Warren’s fracking ban would be bad news for the US, IEA chief says."

Anybody can be bold or ambitious about the future energy world: “Even Andrew Cuomo Isn’t Sure of New York’s Near-Impossible Climate Goals." In formulating sound energy policy, however, we must remain practical. My primary point is that while wind and solar are growing and will remain vital components of the U.S. energy mix, gas plants will be essential to the grid to help maintain system reliability and grid resilience.

Ultimately, it's critically important to remember that nobody has invested more money in wind and solar than California over the past 20 years, establishing every sort of incentive you could think of. In 2018, gas still led at 47% of total generation, with wind at 7% and solar at 14%, per stats from the California Energy Commission. No kidding: "California's Electricity Dreams Still Need Natural Gas." And remember: electricity accounts for less than 40% of our energy demand, meaning that wind and solar don't even compete in most of the ways that we Americans consume energy.

It's easy to ignore all of these facts on a friendly CNN debate stage, but not so in real life.

Yes, Governor Cuomo, you should support the Constitution gas pipeline - and the others.

Thousands of New Yorkers are being denied gas service while a battle continues over a proposed offshore pipeline.

National Grid has a backlog of 2,600 applications for new or expanded service in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island that will only be processed if the state approves the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, a spokeswoman said. The project, proposed by the Oklahoma-based energy company Williams, includes a 23-mile pipeline through New York Harbor, from New Jersey to the Rockaways.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation denied permits for the project twice, most recently in May, because construction would pollute the water with mercury, copper and other contaminants. Williams resubmitted its application days after the denial, and the DEC has another year to approve or deny it.

Since the most recent denial, National Grid has declared a moratorium in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, saying its current infrastructure has reached capacity and it cannot fulfill new requests for gas hookups without the Williams Pipeline. 

 

But local officials aren’t convinced there is a supply issue, saying the utility is just using the moratorium to pressure the state to approve the pipeline, which Williams had hoped would be ready by winter 2020. The state’s Department of Public Service is currently investigating the decision to stop processing new requests, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday directed the department to “consider alternatives to National Grid as franchisee for some or all of the areas it currently serves” if it cannot provide service.

Meanwhile, new homeowners, small businesses and building managers don’t know what to do without gas service. 

“It’s unfair that the citizens of the area that National Grid services are being punished for a feud between Gov. Cuomo and National Grid,” said Steven Feldman, who is purchasing a house in Woodmere, Long Island, and needs to replace an old oil boiler. 

“I already had natural gas coming into the house for cooking for the stove and I wanted to just increase my service load so I could purchase a new boiler that would be energy efficient, that would save me money as well as be better for the environment,” he explained. Feldman, 30, also brought in a contractor to see if there were other options but was told there weren’t alternatives to oil or gas.

James Snook, the project manager for a newly constructed six-unit condo in Carroll Gardens, questioned why National Grid didn’t warn him earlier that there would be a gas shortage. He put in his application for gas service a year ago, but wasn’t told about the moratorium until recently when he followed up after the completion of the building. 

“I have gas boilers, I have gas stoves, I have a gas hot-water heater, I have gas dryers; all of these were installed under the premise that you had my application over a year ago to provide me with gas,” he said. “They should have told builders when they put their applications in that they weren’t going to be able to have gas.”

Snook, 67, added that he worked for Con Edison for decades and “never heard of such a thing as not providing service.”

Dozens of other residents and business owners have reported similar situations to local officials, and based on National Grid’s backlog of applications, Snook and Feldman are among thousands of New York residents and businesses being denied gas service.

National Grid insists that adding additional service without the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project “would pose a risk to the integrity of our system and compromise natural gas use for our existing firm customers.”

The company has purchased additional gas supplies on the short-term spot market, but it says that “is not a sustainable operational solution for providing reliable and long-term natural gas service to customers.

“When we sign customers up, we are committing to providing them with an uninterrupted supply of natural gas. Without NESE, we can’t make that firm commitment to new customers or those looking to expand their current service,” the company said in a statement.

The pipeline is sharply opposed by a coalition of environmental groups that have protested it for years. And possible environmental threats are a concern for some of the homeowners requesting new gas service.

“I wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt the environment, but there has to be some sort of compromise that will make it not harmful to the environment as well as beneficial to the consumer,” Feldman said. 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appears to be at cross purposes with himself when it comes to natural gas.

In an editorial published Aug. 31, the New York Post said he is putting more pressure on National Grid to sign up new customers in sections of Brooklyn, Long Island and Queens. The Post wrote that Mr. Cuomo has directed the Department of Public Service to “broaden its investigation” of National Grid and is threatening to “find another franchisee.”

In May, the state denied a water-quality permit for the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project. The Williams natural gas pipeline would be constructed underwater through the Raritan and New York bays. The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the pipeline would imperil the quality of water at these points.

 

“National Grid and Williams Cos., its construction partner, insist a 23.5-mile conduit is essential to address shortages and meet growing demand,” according to an Aug. 27 story published by Crain’s New York Business. “Environmentalists disputed the need for the project and pointed to environmental dangers for the 17-mile section that would run underwater.”

National Grid informed state authorities that the pipeline is necessary to expand its services. When this permit was denied, the company began declining to connect new customers.

“National Grid gave months of warning that it would need to impose the moratorium if fresh supplies weren’t ensured,” the Post wrote in its editorial. “Con Ed did the same in advance of its recent new-biz moratorium in most of Westchester, which was also prompted in good part by the nixing of new pipelines. This is the point of the yearslong green war on pipelines: You can’t burn gas or oil you can’t get.

“But would-be consumers are, of course, furious. Which leaves Cuomo and like-minded pols blaming the utilities. Hence the gov’s ‘broadened investigation’ — which is supposed to find, what? That National Grid doesn’t want more customers? Much of the public eats it up when pols bash utilities. But it won’t change the facts. Give the franchise to another company, and it still won’t be able to conjure fuel out of the air.”

The Cuomo administration has adopted a bizarre approach to natural gas. Many New Yorkers take advantage of its financial and environmental benefits over other fossil fuels.

But the administration banned fracking in 2014, compelling suppliers to continue transporting it here from out of state. This was a dismal decision as New York is blessed with an abundance of natural gas lying underneath the Marcellus Shale of its southern tier. We could get as much natural gas as necessary to fill increased demand throughout the state, and the economic rewards would be tremendous.

But the governor put the kibosh on extracting our own natural gas, and he’s now cut off additional supplies. Curiously, he’s angry that National Grid won’t sign up new customers who need this extra fuel.

 

We support Mr. Cuomo’s goal of moving the state toward more renewable energy. But this will take time, and New Yorkers still need dependable sources of power to provide basic living needs.

Mr. Cuomo is perturbed that some senior citizens and low-income families may be without heat as temperatures drop. But he’s the one thwarting Con Ed and National Grid from delivering the natural gas they need to perform this function.

“The United States is now the world’s top energy producer,” according to the Post. “There’s no reason for any kind of power or fuel shortage in New York, but the Con Ed and National Grid moratoriums are merely a taste of what’s coming.”

Mr. Cuomo created this crisis, and he shouldn’t be pointing fingers at other parties. He has only himself to blame.

Do New York politicians want to phase out the use of fossil fuels — or not?

On Friday, Assemblyman William Colton (D-B’klyn) blasted National Grid for turning away new Brooklyn natural gas service customers.

Without a gas pipeline recently nixed by Team Cuomo, the company says, it won’t have enough gas to fill new orders.

Blame Cuomo when the gas goes out
Colton and allied pols insist (dubiously) that National Grid can find other sources of gas. But why is he suddenly demanding greater use of the fuel?

After all, Colton cosponsored the state’s “Green New Deal,” which aims to do away with fossil fuels, like natural gas, and shift to a “carbon-free” economy. He should be overjoyed that a utility is ending new gas hookups.

The state, by the way, rejected the Williams/Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline to Queens because Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, wants to end fossil fuel use here.

That’s not the official explanation, but Cuomo has turned down other pipelines as well; each time, his folks cite “water quality” issues, because federal law won’t let states kill pipelines (which serve large regions of the country) for any other reason.

Yet their motives are obvious: No pipelines means no gas. That’s the point.

But that infuriates consumers. So pols like Colton point fingers at National Grid for doing what he and his pals . . . demand.

Politicians routinely try to shift blame for the consequences of their actions. But their constituents shouldn’t be fooled. And the Colton-Cuomo crowd should own the problems they’ve caused.

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