November 25, 2019
Like the football coach who blames game officials for his own bad decisions and lack of preparation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is now blaming one of his state’s public utilities for the inevitable outcomes of his own bad decisions related to hydraulic fracturing and natural gas. Cuomo lashed out last week at the utility National Grid for its refusal to add more gas supply hookups for new homes, threatening to revoke its license to operate.
In a letter to the company, Gov. Cuomo says, in part, that “given National Grid’s mishandling of the natural gas supply system on Long Island and New York City as evidenced by your recent moratorium on service there is no doubt National Grid failed to provide ‘adequate and reliable service.’ Your recent admission to the Public Service Commission that ‘more could have been done to communicate with customers’ effectively concedes that National Grid improperly denied service to over 1,100 households and is demonstrable evidence of both your inability to provide adequate service and take advantage of the public you serve.”
For its part, National Grid says it doesn’t want to add more homes to its customer list because it cannot promise ample volumes of natural gas needed to reliably supply them. Why? The reality of the situation created by the Governor’s own actions in using parts of the Clean Water Act that allow for state intervention to effectively veto the construction of several much-needed natural gas pipelines that would bring additional supplies to National Grid and other state utilities.
As the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial, “Apparently Mr. Cuomo didn’t understand that the result of his pipeline blockade was to force residents to use more expensive and less-efficient electric appliances for space and water heating.” Cuomo’s war on pipelines - the cheapest and safest means of importing natural gas into his state - came on the heels of his 2014 decision to ban high-volume frac jobs within the state’s borders.
That fracking ban effectively denies New York’s mineral owners the right to develop the rich supplies of Marcellus Shale gas that lies underneath their lands, ensuring the Empire State - the 6th largest consumer of natural gas in the nation - will remain an importer into perpetuity. Even more distasteful is the reality that Cuomo’s irrational dislike of natural gas and its pipelines also deny ample gas supplies to the New England states that lie to its north, given that any pipeline right of way designed to carry Marcellus gas to those states must by necessity pass across New York.
That reality has led to the spectacle of LNG tankers carrying expensive Russian gas sailing into Boston Harbor in recent winters so that New Englanders can continue to heat their homes. Naturally, Cuomo, in his efforts to misdirect the blame for his own actions, suggests in his letter to National Grid that the company should have been preparing to import LNG to increase its own supplies: “Gas can be trucked, shipped, or barged, and other infrastructure could be proposed or additional unloading facilities installed.”
As reported by the New York Post in October, members of the state’s Public Service Commission understand where the crux of this problem really lies:
PSC Commissioner Diane Burman said it’s easy to blame the utility but Albany is also at fault for failing to make the tough decisions to boost the energy supply.
“The most important thing is to keep the lights on,” said Burman, who emphasized the state needs to rely on a variety of energy sources before transitioning to cleaner, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and thermal.
“Those who say ‘no new pipelines’ should look at what the ramifications are,” Burman said.
The truth is that those ramifications are easily foreseeable and resolved with just a modicum of common sense from policymakers. There was no real need for New York’s utility customers to be so negatively impacted by all of this, but then, they should have considered that when they voted to re-elect the Governor to his third term in 2018.
Elections have consequences, and one consequence of that election is that New Yorkers can expect their gas shortages to worsen and prices to continue to rise for at least three more years.