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National Grid takes campaign for gas pipeline to radio

National Grid has declared a moratorium on new

National Grid has declared a moratorium on new residential and commercial gas hookups. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

National Grid on Friday will kick off a radio ad campaign to press for a new natural gas pipeline to the region in the latest effort to win state approval for the contested $1 billion project.

On Wednesday, dozens of opponents of the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, or NESE, rallied in front of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Manhattan office, calling on him to reject the pipeline and to embrace a fossil-fuel free future. Also Wednesday, small business owners and officials in Lynbrook held a rally urging Cuomo and National Grid to resolve the pipeline issue so stores and businesses can access new gas service.

National Grid has declared a moratorium on new residential and commercial gas hookups, including conversions from dirtier-burning fuel oil, because of critical shortages it says it faces with the pipeline’s uncertain future. New York and New Jersey have declined to approve permits for the developer, Williams Co., to start the project, but are reviewing resubmitted applications.  

“If you need natural gas to heat your home or run your business, please tell New York state officials to approve NESE,” the 30-second radio ad urges. The radio spots will run 1,600 times over the next three weeks in prominent New York radio venues, National Grid said.

The ads, which an official said were paid for by National Grid shareholders, not ratepayers, represent the latest effort by the company to get its message out in the face of regular protests by green-energy groups who say the supply shortage has been manufactured to guarantee a fossil-fuel future.

National Grid New York president John Bruckner on Thursday rejected assertions the company is crying wolf.

“We are not withholding gas to get this project approved,” he said. “We are not processing new customer applications because we do not have the gas to back it up.”

Kim Fraczek, director of green-energy activist group the Sane Energy Project, which opposes the pipeline, called the radio ads "a disgrace." 

"I think ratepayers should pay attention to the fact National Grid is investing a large amount of money to convince a captive audience that they need this pipeline instead of offering them renewable alternatives," she said, noting opposing groups have published a report that found National Grid didn't need the new gas supply pipeline. "It’s an organizing tactic to keep themselves in business."

Bruckner declined to say how much National Grid was spending on the ad campaign or other efforts to persuade the state to approve the pipeline. The Public Utility Law Project has called for a state probe into the company’s use of customer emails to get its message out. Bruckner defended the emails and said customers’ personal information was never compromised in the campaigns.

The emails contained information about gas supply and the moratorium that “impacts the way they run their businesses,” he said. It would be “irresponsible for us not to tell them where we stood with supply,” Bruckner said.

National Grid has been participating in a review by the state Department of Public Service into the gas supply, Bruckner said, and the Public Service Commission could weigh in on it at its September session. “To be clear," Bruckner said, "the future of natural gas as a choice for consumers in this region ultimately rests with the decision makers in New York and New Jersey.”

Bruckner warned that delays or rejection of the permits into the fall runs the risk of forcing the company to continue the moratorium into 2020, if construction isn’t begun on Williams Co.’s schedule.

Bruckner also said, “If this project doesn’t go forward and it gets rejected again, how long they [Williams] will continue to pursue the project is a significant risk to our customers.”

At the rally outside Cuomo's office, Fraczek of Sane Energy said despite the rejections of permit applications, “we’ve got to keep the pressure on.” Opponents say more than 25,000 have weighed in against the project during a Department of Environmental Conservation comment period after its May 15 rejection. The DEC said Wednesday it would rule on the resubmitted application on or before May 2020.

Rob Friedman, policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said at the rally that, “building this pipeline would perpetuate our dependence on dirty fracked gas and on dirty fossil fuels. We cannot afford to keep building fossil fuel infrastructure. We are in a climate crisis.”

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