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Regulator probes ConEd, National Grid over gas operator qualifications

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Essential Energy Insights - January 2021


Regulator probes ConEd, National Grid over gas operator qualifications

Consolidated Edison Co. of New York Inc.'s natural gas utility has 45 days to respond to allegations that it failed to inspect work done by contractors and allowed workers without proper qualifications to complete work on its system.

The New York Public Service Commission ordered ConEd to explain its actions after an extensive investigation that involved digging up installations for further inspection. The regulator said it found that the utility had failed to inspect its contractors' work frequently enough to ensure compliance and that the utility had let work be done by plastic fusers and plastic fusion inspectors who were not qualified to do the work.

The regulator also said that in response to an order for the company to investigate its contractors, the utility had found evidence of cheating on qualification tests at ConEd contractors Network Infrastructure and Bond Brothers.

In total, the commission's inquiry unearthed 644 violations, according to a March 15 statement.

The commission is also investigating National Grid Gas PLC for similar violations. That investigation is ongoing, and the regulator will consider further action in a future session, the statement said. In the National Grid case, the commission is revisiting work Network Infrastructure did on the company's Northern Queens pipeline project.

The ConEd investigation revealed violations of construction requirements after inspectors dug up New York City pipes that Network Infrastructure and Bond Brothers had worked on in 2017. The commission also alleged three plastics fusers and 21 plastic fusion inspectors had completed the work with lapsed qualifications.

The investigators confirmed allegations raised in an anonymous 2016 letter that said utilities contractors had cheated on exams, the commission said. ConEd shareholders will bear the cost — totaling at least $2 million — of the inspection digs regardless of the outcome of the inquiry.

The investigation was started with an anonymous tip that Network Infrastructure employees had been given the answers to online operator qualification tests. The scheme is alleged to have involved having high school students take qualifying tests, then taking cell phone pictures of the questions from which answer sheets were created.