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NY consumer group criticizes state's restrictions on gas infrastructure


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NY consumer group criticizes state's restrictions on gas infrastructure

A group interested in expanded access to natural gas said utility Consolidated Edison Co. of New York Inc.'s recent restrictions of gas service showed the problems with New York's efforts to drive out fossil fuels and gas pipelines.

New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a coalition of community, labor and business leaders that want more gas for commercial and residential consumers, held a March 6 discussion to express concern "about the impact that New York's natural gas blockade is having on consumers and the economy," according to a statement from the group. The group said gas and pipeline infrastructure are essential to keeping energy costs reasonable for businesses and residents, and gas has environmental advantages over fuel oil, which is often used as an alternative heating fuel.

"The recent moratoriums announced for Westchester [County, N.Y.] and Long Island are the canary in the coal mine for New York's energy future," group spokesperson Peter Kauffmann said in the statement. "If we continue to block natural gas infrastructure, New Yorkers will continue to lose access to affordable, reliable, domestic natural gas."

"Dreams of technologies that may be developed decades from now will not keep New Yorkers warm this winter," Kauffmann said. "It's time to stop forcing the most vulnerable New Yorkers to bear the burden for the misguided political agenda of a small group of activists."

John Murphy, an international representative of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, said in the statement that the gas service moratoriums put jobs in jeopardy. "The largest development projects in New York State depend on access to natural gas, so if natural gas isn't available, those projects don't move forward and quality union jobs go away."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has attempted to move New York toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels: first fuel oil and more recently natural gas. A few years ago, the state began turning down permits for some pipeline projects. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has withheld or denied Clean Water Act permits for pipeline projects such as the Williams Cos. Inc.-led Constitution pipeline, which had already obtained Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval under the Natural Gas Act. FERC granted the developer an extension to place the project into service in recognition of the difficulties the project has faced in New York. (FERC dockets CP13-499, et al.)

Maya van Rossum, leader of environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, supported New York's decisions and mandates. They appear to be "inspiring ConEd to do a better job of seeking clean energy options and more environmentally protective infrastructure solutions," she said. "That's a good thing."

ConEd's decision to put the blame for the gas restrictions on a shortage of pipeline capacity "seems like political maneuvering and messaging," van Rossum said.

In announcing the moratorium, ConEd, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison Inc., said the pipeline constraints had limited the region's access to gas supply and would prevent prospective customers from switching from fuel oil to gas for heating.

The New York State Public Service Commission conducted an analysis of the circumstances behind the utility's decision. The state commission approved the utility's plan to spend $223 million to curb gas demand Feb. 7. The plan focused on energy efficiency and on electrification through the increased use of heat pumps. The measures are designed to limit gas demand associated with customers switching their heating systems away from fuel oil. New York has been encouraging customers to move off away from fuel oil for years because of its high emissions.