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Cuomo orders Grid to restore gas to 1,157; utility faces millions in fines

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo takes questions in Queens

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo takes questions in Queens on May 6. Credit: Charles Eckert

National Grid faces millions of dollars in fines and must immediately provide natural gas service to more than 1,100 customers who were denied it as part of a moratorium declared by the company as it seeks state approval for a contested new gas pipeline.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the measures as part of a preliminary finding by the state Public Service Commission, which is investigating the veracity of an impending gas shortage declared by the company and complaints by thousands of customers awaiting gas service. Of the 1,157 whose service was ordered restored, 171 live on Long Island, the PSC said. 

“National Grid has acted in bad faith throughout this process,” Cuomo declared Friday afternoon in ordering the company to restore or provide service to those deemed eligible under state public service law.

National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said, "We are obviously disappointed" by the PSC order, but she added, "We stand by our analysis and there are very real gas supply constraints in the Northeast." 

Young said the company has been "working to identify unprecedented temporary solutions to help mitigate this situation and will immediately begin connecting the more than 1,100 applicants who have been identified in the order."  

PSC chairman John Rhodes said the agency's move was warranted "to address the customer hardships created by National Grid's unwarranted denial of service," which he said left previously existing customers "suddenly cut off from gas without adequate warning and preparation."

Cuomo also ordered the PSC to expand its ongoing investigation to examine whether the company properly planned for reliably meeting the needs of its customers, given that the utility "faces supply constraints this winter.”

His statement noted that even if granted approvals by the state, the $1 billion Williams pipeline won’t be in service until December 2020.

Cuomo said the probe would examine charges of “potential negligence” for National Grid’s potential failure in “not preparing for the months ahead.”

Said Cuomo: “Make no mistake, New York will hold National Grid accountable.”

"I hope what Cuomo's doing works," said Sean Pryor of Amityville, who is facing a winter without gas service in his recently renovated Amityville home because of National Grid's moratorium.

Environmental groups that have consistently charged that National Grid is fabricating the shortage to ensure a fossil-fuel future for the state were quick to comment on Cuomo's order. 

"National Grid’s reckless and cynical attempt to hold New Yorkers hostage in order to win approval of a dangerous, unnecessary pipeline is unraveling before our eyes," said Laura Shindell, organizer for Food & Water Action, which is part of a coalition to stop the pipeline.

Noting the state Department of Environmental Conservation has twice rejected approvals for the pipeline, she added, "National Grid’s outrageous response — making bogus claims about a shortage of gas — has upended thousands of families and businesses they are supposed to serve."

In addition to ordering National Grid to immediately connect the 1,157 residential and small commercial customers, a PSC order to show cause also requires it to “implement an alternative supply-and-demand reduction plan to ensure the safety and reliability of the gas system.” The order also starts a procedure for levying potentially millions of dollars in fines against the company.

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