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National Grid taking emergency action to reconnect gas customers

A National Grid commercial gas meter in Riverhead.

A National Grid commercial gas meter in Riverhead. Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

National Grid on Monday said it has taken “immediate action” to comply with a state order to re-connect gas residential customers by mid-November after a Public Service Commission investigation found it improperly denied service to more than 1,100 customers.

The move comes as fuel-oil and propane gas companies have begun to sense opportunities for new customers as the winter heating season kicks off with potentially thousands of homes and businesses lacking fuel.

In a statement Monday, National Grid said it enacted an “emergency response plan” and has begun contacting and re-connecting customers covered by the state order, which it said numbered “nearly 1,000.” The state had said it was 1,157, including 171 Long Islanders who the state said were improperly denied service following National Grid’s moratorium enacted in May.

Explaining the lower number, National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said some customers "notified us they don’t need service, and some were identified as active accounts looking to increase" their usage, and thus removed from the PSC list. 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday announced the restoration order and the potential for millions of dollars in fines against National Grid after accusing the company of having “acted in bad faith throughout this process.”

PSC spokesman James Denn said the agency was “heartened to see National Grid move quickly in response to the PSC order. It is important to note that the law requires utilities to provide gas service without unreasonable qualifications or lengthy delay when sufficient gas supply exists.”

Critics charge National Grid has falsified the gas shortage to force a new pipeline’s approval by state regulators, a charge the company denies.

National Grid New York President John Bruckner in a statement said company’s plan is to “contact all customers outlined in the order by the end of this week and schedule a reconnection appointment based on their needs,” adding the majority would be reconnected by mid-November.

The reconnections are for downstate customers who had inactive accounts, applied for gas service and were denied during National Grid’s moratorium on residential customers that went into effect in May.

In addition to reconnecting customers, Bruckner said the company is also expanding programs that will help reduce natural gas usage by customers to “help create additional capacity to serve these customers.” He said that doesn’t affect the longer-term need for more gas for the region, which the company hopes to supply through the contested new $1 billion pipeline called the Northeast Supply Enhancement project by Williams Co.

New York State has twice rejected needed permits for the project, leading National Grid to enact the moratorium on all new requests for service earlier this year. The move has affected business and residential development projects and halted the thousands of conversions from fuel oil to natural gas that take place each year.

Suppliers of other fuels are sensing opportunity. John Catsimatidis, president of United Metro Energy, the state’s largest distributor and retail supplier of oil, on Monday said the company is offering to install a new oil heating system with no upfront costs to customers who make five-year commitments to fuel oil. The cost of the system is built into the oil cost over five years, he said. The system can cost upwards of $7,500 for a 3,000-square-foot home, he said.

The propane industry has been beating the drum for converting to that fuel since the moratorium went into effect. Customers can add a propane tank that powers a natural gas furnace for a “nominal cost,” said Charles Buonincontri, director of market development for Paraco Gas, based in Rye Brook, a company that serves more than 66,000 Long Islanders.

He said he’s seen his business surge upwards of 20 percent since the moratorium was declared. “People need an alternative” to National Grid’s service, he said, particularly as the winter heating season begins and temperatures are beginning to drop.

The moratorium remains in place for the untold number of National Grid customers, new or old, who have requested service but don’t fit the state’s requirement for reconnection.

“We know how frustrating this situation has been for customers that have been waiting to be approved for gas service,” Bruckner said, adding those connections are “not possible given the current constraints on gas supply.”

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