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National Grid gas shortage warning questioned by pipeline critics

Critics of a proposed $1 billion natural gas pipeline are using National Grid testimony and documents to rebut company warnings of gas shortages that are at the core of a moratorium on new gas hookups.

A coalition of pipeline opponents made up of activist and green energy groups point to three recently canceled gas supply contracts for the existing Iroquois pipeline in Northport to argue that National Grid has "severely mismanaged or spectacularly misrepresented its gas supply." 

The coalition suggested the company manipulated the shortage by eliminating "one of Long Island's chief sources of gas." 

National Grid said it canceled the contracts for financial reasons, and denied the moves caused the downstate shortage. 

“We believe the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project is the most cost effective and environmentally sound heating supply option available for our customers to heat their homes and run their businesses,” National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said.

The 24-mile gas project would start in New Jersey and connect with existing infrastructure at sea beyond the Rockaways. 

National Grid gas customers on Long Island and the Rockaways this month received warnings in their monthly bills urging them to “call us before remodeling.”

The insert says customers looking to “expand” gas service as part of home renovations should not expect to heat the new spaces with gas.

“We will not be able to meet your request unless the Northeast Regional Supply Enhancement Project is approved and comes online,” the insert says.

National Grid has been advocating strongly for state approvals for the new pipeline project, which would increase the local gas supply by 14 percent.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has rejected the $1 billion proposal twice because digging under New York waterways would release toxic sediment such as mercury.

The project’s developer, Williams Co., has reapplied for approval, which will be decided on or before next May, the DEC said. New Jersey also has rejected the pipeline.

But even as National Grid takes its case for the pipeline to everyday customers, opponents are using the company’s own testimony and documents to argue that warnings of a downstate gas shortage are part of a false campaign to guarantee a future reliant on fossil fuels at a time when the state is moving to renewables.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for a state probe into the company's assertions of a shortage and National Grid’s refusal to provide service to customers. The company began enforcing a moratorium on new gas hookups earlier this year.

“We have taken a position: We’re against the pipeline,” Cuomo said in a radio appearance last month.

Cuomo's criticism followed reports that National Grid has shut off service to customers who temporarily suspended service for renovations.

On Friday the state Public Service Commission expanded its investigation into National Grid and its moratorium on new gas hookups throughout the region, ordering the company to restore service to 1,157 customers who had been unlawfully disconnected. The company potentially faces millions of dollars in fines.

The probe will examine whether National Grid properly planned for an expected shortage of gas this winter.

National Grid's Young said the company continues to cooperate with a PSC investigation "related to supply constraints in our region" while "addressing the facts related to this complex issue within that regulatory framework.”

But one anti-pipeline group is pointing to information provided by National Grid during recent state rate-hike hearings in arguing that the supply shortage is manufactured.

In a letter to PSC chairman John Rhodes last month, the Stop the Williams Pipeline Coalition said National Grid had recently canceled three pipeline supply contracts to bring natural gas from Canada to the Iroquois Gas Transmission System that lands in Northport.

The letter quotes Elizabeth Arangio, director of gas supply planning for National Grid, as saying the company “did not renew expiring long-haul contracts” which delivered “more expensive” supply from the TransCanada, Union and Empire pipelines.

The group said the Iroquois contracts “provided a completely separate supply route to areas currently affected by National Grid’s moratorium.”

Young confirmed the contracts were ended but denied the terminations caused local gas shortages.

“The upstream capacity supply contracts in question were terminated to allow the company to secure more affordable and cost-effective gas supply options for our customers,” Young said.

The letter to Rhodes, signed by activist and green energy groups including the Sane Energy Project, Food and Water Watch, Rockaway Beach Civic Assoc. 350.org and New York Communities for Change, also cites National Grid testimony showing the company sold $284 million worth of gas to third parties from 2014 to 2019, while pointing to a looming shortage.

The coalition also asserted that at least 15 percent of the gas from the proposed pipeline is not needed.

The assertion is based on documents from pipeline operator Transco showing National Grid offered to reduce the 400,000 dekatherms a day it would receive from the proposed pipeline to 350,000 dekatherms if other bidders for the gas emerged. When none did, National Grid reverted to the 400,000 figure.

“This proves that at least 15 percent of the gas that NESE would carry isn’t needed — much less wanted — by National Grid,” the coalition wrote.

Williams spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company's decision to offer 50,000 dekatherms to an outside shipper was a "regulatory requirement, not an indication that a portion wasn't needed." 

Having a third party take that portion of the gas "would have only meant that a different shipper would have been arranging for delivery of the natural gas for National Grid's needs," he said. The offer "should in no way be construed as National Grid not needing or wanting the capacity." 

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