In May, the state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected a water quality certification sought by National Grid that is needed for the utility to build a 24-mile subsea gas pipeline from the New Jersey shore to a terminus off the coast of the Rockaways.
The DEC said National Grid’s plan for building the $1 billion Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline would likely lead to water-quality violations by stirring up sediments and other contaminants, including mercury and copper.
National Grid responded by halting the processing of applications for natural gas hookups for all levels of customers – residential, small business and large developments.
Want to switch to a gas stove in your home? Can’t do it.
Opening a restaurant using gas heat? Forget about it?
Building a subdivision using gas heat? Not today.
That’s the message that National Grid has sent to its 1.8 million customers across Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
Stephen Wangel, president of the Lynbrook Chamber of Commerce, told last week of a business owner who made a significant investment in a new restaurant but now is unable to open because he “cannot obtain natural gas service to fuel his cooking equipment.”
Kyle Strober, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, said the rejection of National Grid’s application is threatening future economic development projects, such as the proposed New York Islanders arena at Belmont Park and the Nassau Hub in Uniondale, according to the Long Island Business News.
National Grid contends the halt in accepting new applications is needed because its existing pipeline infrastructure is at capacity.
National Grid and Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, the project developer, said they viewed the DEC rejection as a “technical issue” and had resubmitted the application.
National Grid said it expects the project to be in service by the winter of 2020-21.
This raises several questions.
Did National Grid really need to halt accepting applications in May if the work would not be completed, as they believe, until sometime in 2021 – more than a year and a half from now?
Or was this a political move by National Grid in an effort to pressure the DEC to issue an environmental approval – regardless of whether it meets state standards?
Environmentalists and other opponents have accused National Grid of fabricating the shortage to tie the region to fossil fuels.
Does National Grid’s response mean that if the project does get approved but construction problems cause it to be delayed beyond 2021 that the utility runs out of capacity again?
These are questions that the state Public Service Commission should be asking National Grid. No utility should be permitted to threaten businesses for political reasons.
And it’s not as if utilities have earned our undying trust. Does anyone remember LIPA and what they said before Superstorm Sandy?
But there are also questions of policy and politics that need to be asked of the state and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
DEC’s rejection of the Williams pipeline is part of a pattern of the state denying pipeline projects on environmental grounds over the past several years. And Cuomo has said he wants utilities such as National Grid to invest more in renewable power and energy efficiency rather than fossil-fired projects.
In March, Con Edison imposed a moratorium on new gas customers in Westchester due to a lack of new pipelines.
Cuomo said in May that the DEC’s decision would be based “on the merits and the facts,” according to a story in Newsday. “I told them [the regulators] to make the decision on the facts and not on the politics, and that’s what they’re going to do. They will make the decision. I am not involved in the decision.”
That might be true. On the other hand, leaving decisions to other people has never been Cuomo’s strong suit and there are potent political currents moving both ways, particularly after the governor touted the Green Act recently approved by the state Legislature.
So maybe. Maybe not.
Then there is the question of whether the pipelines are actually needed at all.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called the DEC’s decision “a major victory in our efforts to deliver the green and more sustainable future our children and our children’s children deserve,” according to a story in Newsday.
We, too, support a more green and more sustainable future. But we would like to get there without harming the economy of the present.