Con Edison Moratorium on New Natural Gas Hook Ups Is a Wake-up Call

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On Jan. 17 Con Edison sent a letter to the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) announcing its intent to impose a natural gas infrastructure moratorium on much of its Westchester County service territory, beginning March 15.

On Jan. 18, Con Ed representatives were on the phone speaking with their customers at the local government level, explaining that the moratorium was on all new natural gas hook-ups.

Upon getting the announcement, County Executive George Latimer sent out a notice that he was investigating the situation and a meeting with County officials, local government representatives and Con Ed was held on Jan. 31.

During a press conference Feb. 4, Latimer said, “They were very accommodating,” referring to Con Edison, as they answered questions.

Noting that the moratorium announcement was very “quick and abrupt,” Latimer explained that 45 municipalities in Westchester will be affected, with only a small number at the northern most part of the county not in the moratorium zone.

“The moratorium will impact development in these municipalities, especially the cities in the County, where development is ongoing.” Economic revival efforts based on this development will experience a chilling effect, Latimer said.

During the Monday press conference, Latimer explained that Con Ed is experiencing increased demand for natural gas because energy customers were moving away from oil to gas and the demand was putting a strain on the utility’s ability to meet demand during peak times.

Apparently, Con Ed cannot meet existing demand and new demand, Latimer said.

Intent on finding ways to manage the situation to best serve the local municipalities and county government, Latimer said that while the county did not have the authority to prohibit the action by Con Edison, New York State PSC does, and that efforts were underway to communicate with state officials to try to push the March 15 date out so communities affected could take effective action for a smooth transition or even to rework their energy consumption to avoid a stoppage of new gas hook-ups.

Latimer’s “action plan” entails getting input from all 45 municipalities affected to identify all the projects that might fall under the moratorium.

Latimer said the county would also hire professionals to track all the regulatory processes and legal issues so the Westchester municipalities could speak as one group if they wanted to rather than each local government having its own discussion with the utility.

Latimer noted that Assembly members David Buchwald (D-White Plains) and Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) along with Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) were set to do whatever was necessary at the state level to help out.

Also speaking during the press conference was White Plains Mayor Tom Roach.

Roach said that when he received the phone call from the city’s Con Ed representative he was shocked. Gathering together city commissioners and staff, he called the utility back 15 minutes later.

“As I learned more, I thought the impact on White Plains is not going to be great,” Roach said. “But this is a wake-up call. I pretty quickly came over to the idea that this is the opportunity to celebrate the transfer over to renewables, which is where we are headed anyway.”

Roach continued: If you look at the cost to bring in another pipeline for what is going to be an outdated fuel and technology, rather apply that money to conservatism and incentivizing homeowners and businesses and new development projects to use renewable energy such as geothermal fuel pumps. The state already has laudable goals for going fossil-free, Roach said.

The Con Edison Web site indicates that in 2017 the utility put out a request for proposals for alternatives to natural gas, such as conversion over to all-electric using wind and solar energy, as well as geothermal alternatives.

A statement from the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO), released Jan. 31, in response to the moratorium notification, praised the Con Ed action, stating: “Significant GHP (geothermal heat pump) deployment throughout the Westchester service territory is already being planned by Con Edison, although increased awareness and adoption is needed to meet the needs of all customers. GHPs are a ‘beneficial electrification’ technology that reduce electric grid impacts, ease gas supply constraints, eliminate onsite emissions, and provide customers significant savings. They use the Earth as a ‘thermal battery’ to meet the needs of the building.”

Despite the involvement of alternative energy supply groups with New York State’s policy to move away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives, BOL chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains), expressed his frustration Monday. “You had to see this coming,” he said. “A lot of homeowners are moving from oil to gas. Heat pumps are expensive.”

Boykin also noted that in the case of home renovations where a homeowner might add-on or build a larger house on an existing site, Con Edison would only supply the same amount of natural gas as had been needed for the original building footprint.

Latimer acknowledged that going forward, the state would have to be involved with the transition process, helping with timelines and grant programs.

Latimer and local government officials will be testifying at a hearing Feb. 11 about the impact of the moratorium and the less than 60-days notice Con Edison gave communities before the March 15 new-project cut-off date. The hope is to get the date pushed out so a workable action plan can be implemented.

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