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Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes aim at National Grid gas moratorium after Lynbrook rally

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Amid a gas moratorium imposed by National Grid, the utility faces millions of dollars in fines unless it provides natural gas to more than 1,100 customers who were denied service re-connections after the company recently sought approval for a controversial gas pipeline.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the fines last week while noting that the state’s Public Service Commission is now on the case. The PSC is investigating what National Grid claimed to be an impending gas shortage amid complaints by customers who were denied service.

“National Grid has acted in bad faith throughout this process,” Cuomo said in a release. The fines are intended to force the utility to restore service to 1,157 customers, including 171 on Long Island, who sought to have their gas service reconnected. Meanwhile, customers seeking new connections, including a number of Lynbrook businesses, are still being denied service under the moratorium.

Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach and the village board hosted a rally in August opposing National Grid’s moratorium. Several elected officials, business owners and Chamber of Commerce members spoke about the effect that the lack of gas hookups had on the downtown. Reached by phone Monday, Beach said he was relieved that a resolution to the reconnection question appeared in sight, but emphasized that new businesses are still being denied gas hookups.

“They’re not done with it yet, but I’m happy that they’re moving forward with restoring services,” Beach said. “I don’t know what their actual volume of natural gas is, and if they say they’re running out, then I have to go with that. But you can’t just go cold turkey on cutting the natural gas off. What are you supposed to do with everybody?”

National Grid New York President John Bruckner released a statement noting that the affected customers were denied service because of an oversight. “We’ve begun the process of contacting and reconnecting natural gas service to residential customers in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties who were previously disconnected from our system more than two years ago, no longer accounted for in our supply portfolio and denied reconnection under our current connection restriction guidelines,” the statement read. “We care and are concerned for all customers impacted by this issue, and it’s clear we could have done a better job communicating to this particular segment of customers.”

Bruckner said an emergency team is working to reconnect the gas hookups. He added that he hoped to have most of those customers supplied by mid-November.

Bruckner said, however, that the service connection restrictions now in place would remain in effect for all others who have requested new or expanded service. The utility serves more than 1.8 million customers in downstate New York.

“We know how frustrating this situation has been for customers that have been waiting to be approved for gas service,” Bruckner said. “We’ve been in this business for more than 100 years, and there’s nothing we want more than to satisfy every customer request for gas service. Unfortunately, that’s not possible given the current constraints on gas supply.”

Cuomo also asked the PSC to examine whether National Grid properly planned to meet its customers’ needs when it recently announced that it faced a gas shortage for this coming winter. He noted that even if the gas pipeline were installed, it would not be in service until December 2020 at the earliest. The order also requires National Grid to implement an alternative supply-and-demand reduction plan to ensure the safety and reliability of the gas system. If it does not, the company could face millions of dollars in fines.

At the August rally in Lynbrook, Beach pleaded for National Grid, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and New York and New Jersey elected officials to end an impasse over a rejected $1 billion, 24-mile gas supply pipeline. Some 2,400 applications for new gas hookups have been denied on Long Island.

National Grid representatives said in June that they would not permit new gas hookups for homes and businesses, which has caused businesses to struggle to expand their operations. The announcement came after New York and New Jersey rejected the new pipeline, called the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project.

The announcement came a month after the DEC denied the permit application for developer Williams Co. to build a pipeline in New York waterways, saying it would violate water-quality standards. New Jersey has also rejected applications for permits. Williams has resubmitted its applications, and they are under review, a DEC spokesman said, adding, “DEC takes [its] role extremely seriously to prevent any deterioration of our natural resources.”

National Grid spokesman Domenick Graziani said in August that the utility wanted to supply gas service, but could not. “The infrastructure serving the region has reached full capacity and is unable to meet growing demand,” he said. “The [pipeline] is needed to access additional supplies of natural gas required for new or expanded service requests.”

To make up for the supply gap, Graziani said, National Grid has been buying additional gas supplies through short-term spot market contracts, but they are not guaranteed from one year to the next, are dependent on market availability and are not sustainable. “We still remain cautiously optimistic that NESE will be approved,” he said, “and that we’ll soon be able to resume processing requests for new gas service.”