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National Grid hasn't needed short-term measures to handle gas crisis

Commercial gas meter in Riverhead for National Grid.

Commercial gas meter in Riverhead for National Grid. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

A series of measures National Grid agreed to enact under state pressure to head off a supply crisis this winter have not been needed, the company said this week, because of warmer-than-expected weather.

The London-based company said it has readied or enacted the measures, which include securing additional peak supply, trucking in gas to high-demand spots and implementing demand-reduction programs.

But National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said, "at this time, due to the above-average temperatures experienced so far this winter, we have not had to call on them.”

Green-energy activists quickly pounced on the news, saying it proved National Grid’s predictions of a looming gas crisis were disingenuous.

“They keep changing their story,” said Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project, one of the green-energy groups that formed a coalition to oppose the company’s plan for a $1 billion undersea gas pipeline. “The bottom line is they just want to keep doing more business-as-usual by building more infrastructure and charging us, the ratepayers, to fill their shareholder pockets.”

She noted the company has asked the state for permission to raise rates this year, an average hike of $8.39 for Long Islanders and $16.50 a month for its New York City customers

“This is what we’ve been saying all along — that this was an entirely manufactured crisis made to manipulate the governor into approving a pipeline we didn’t need,” said Robert Wood, an organizer with 350Brooklyn, a climate activist group.

“Multiple studies have shown gas demand is flat to negative,” Wood said, noting that National Grid’s largest customer on Long Island, LIPA, has seen demand fall by more than half over a decade. “None of this should be surprising to anyone.”

National Grid has long denied claims that the supply constraints were fabricated, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state have acknowledged the prospect of shortages. 

National Grid in November lifted a nearly yearlong moratorium on new gas hookups after tense negotiations with the state topped by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's threat to yank the company’s state operating franchise. In a settlement, the company agreed to contact thousands of customers who had been denied service since the company declared varying stages of moratoriums last year. It also agreed to pay $36 million to help compensate victims of the gas lockout and to fund green-energy programs to lower gas usage, and it agreed to a state monitor to police its fulfillment of the agreement.

Thus far, said Young in response to Newsday questions, the company has contacted “everyone” covered in a state Public Service Commission order to begin connecting supply lines to those who’ve requested it. Newsday in November reported about 4,000 customers had been denied service by November, from large development projects such as the Nassau Hub to thousands of homes from across the region. Young declined to put a number on how many had been connected since November.

As part of the agreement with the state, the company also implemented the short-term measures to respond to a supply crisis it claimed was afflicting the region and was the reason the $1 billion pipeline, which would bring up to 400 million cubic feet of gas per day to the region, was needed.

Those measures included initiating a new supply contract for the Iroquois gas pipeline, which traverses that Long Island Sound and lands at Northport; demand-reduction programs, conversion of firm service customers to interruptible service, and preparing to inject additional gas from tanker trucks throughout the system.

“We’ve implemented the short-term supply solutions according to the interim plan filed with the PSC to reduce demand for natural gas at peak times," Young said, noting the company has "secured a small amount of additional peaking capacity on the Iroquois system, enhanced demand response and energy efficiency and increased reliance on portable compressed natural gas." 

Energy regulators had projected a warmer winter last year.

National Grid will hold public sessions beginning in February to discuss its options regarding the pipeline. The so-called Northeast Supply Enhancement project has been twice denied needed permits by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. 

Department of Public Service spokesman James Denn indicated warmer weather now is not a reason for National Grid to let down its guard on the interim measures.

“Weather can change, and the utility needs to be prepared,” he said. “Given that circumstances can change, DPS will continue to ensure utilities have plans in place for all scenarios in order to ensure safety and reliability for all natural gas customers.”

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