Earth Matters: Is National Grid listening?

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By Patti Wood

Maybe the powers that be at National Grid missed the governor’s publicly stated goals to reduce the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 and to transition New York’s power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040? With great fanfare, Gov. Cuomo signed these goals into law in July 2019.

And at a recent press conference the governor said that New York would show other states that “it can be done” by embarking upon “the most ambitious climate change program that any state has ever undertaken.”

Supporters of the governor’s plan are calling for this to be funded by taxing top income earners, and they’re calling for the Legislature to pass a carbon and pollution tax to be paid by the fossil fuel industries operating in the state. And, of course, the state will be investing billions.

So it is not just a little disturbing that National Grid is actively pushing for a multi-pronged build-out of natural gas infrastructure and services, including expanding the Iroquois pipeline from Canada to New York and Connecticut, Long Island and New York City. The utility is also planning to expand existing transmission lines and construct a number of new compressed natural gas filling stations and liquid natural gas and compressed natural gas storage and transport terminals. To accomplish this, National Grid is appealing to the state’s Public Service Commission for permission to raise rates on existing gas customers to help pay for this multimillion-dollar expansion.

You probably remember that New York state banned fracking for natural gas back in 2015. This decision was made based on the hazards of fracking, including contamination of groundwater, the unknown fate of the radioactive materials brought up from the shale along with the gas, environmental destruction and the myriad health problems showing up in people living near and downwind from fracking sites. It was a hard-won fight by scientists, medical doctors, drilling specialists, celebrities, activists and more. The pressure was too great and the science was too clear.

So now, cheap fracked gas is being produced in other shale-rich states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that have not passed prohibitions, and the companies that distribute and sell natural gas are anxious to get it.

Along with sites in Brooklyn and Staten Island, there are six locations on Long Island identified in National Grid’s expansion plan, including a site in Glenwood Landing, located on the southeastern end of Hempstead Harbor, across from Port Washington’s Bar Beach and near the new luxury waterfront residences now being constructed. This location would be used for an expanded compressed natural gas storage and distribution facility.

Pipeline gas becomes compressed natural gas when its pressure is increased to 3,600 pounds per square inch, reducing its volume to less than 1 percent of the original. A study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy found that “the key safety issue for CNG fuel is the containment of the high-pressure natural gas. Events that can result in a release and subsequent ignition of large quantities of flammable fuel/air mixture are the event of concern for the CNG fuel system.” In other words, they blow up.

To move the CNG from points outside Long Island into Glenwood Landing will require a significant increase in truck traffic through densely populated areas. A regular procession of trucks carrying CNG is often referred to as a “virtual pipeline,” and common sense tells us that this has a very real potential to become a public safety hazard. In fact, after several recently reported highway accidents involving CNG transporters, including some right here in New York state, these trucks are now often referred to as “bomb trucks.”

The largest ever uncontrolled wildfires raging in California, unpredictable and devastating hurricanes that have displaced millions and are on track to strike again this season, severe droughts and a future of more pandemics and suffering in part due to climate change are reasons enough to question why we are moving ahead with projects that will lock us into decades of extracting and burning more fossil fuels.

Now is the time to be listening to scientists and engineers who have some of the answers to how we can preserve our way of life without destroying our planet. One of those people is Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobsen.

Jacobsen and his colleagues have calculated how to meet a 2050 goal of replacing dirty and greenhouse-gas-producing fossil fuel energy with clean, renewable energy. They have done this, state by state, looking at each state’s available resources for wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and tidal or wave power. Their plans call for aggressive changes in infrastructure and consumption, and they provide lots of data showing it will be technically and economically possible. Their main thrust is that we will need to rely on electricity generated by renewables. Sounds like a plan.

“The main barriers are social, political and getting industries to change,” said Jacobsen, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy. “One way to overcome the barriers is to inform people about what is possible.” You can read about their recommendations for New York at www.thesolutionsproject.org.

You can also get involved in promoting their vision by connecting with the non-profit organization Sane Energy at www.saneenergy.org

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