National Grid continued its moratorium on new natural gas hookups last week with its refusal to allow the Seaford Fire Department to install a new generator.
At issue is the installation of a 150-kilowatt generator to replace the 50-year-old equipment the department currently has in place. The department contends that the generator is simply a replacement and not a new installation, but the utility counters that because the installation would require a larger pipe connecting it to the network, it constitutes a new installation.
National Grid has refused to allow any new hookups, residential or commercial, until it finishes construction on a new natural gas pipeline across Long Island — the so-called Williams Pipeline — that will move natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York and New Jersey. National Grid has said the pipeline is necessary to address a shortage of natural gas that the utility claims now limits new construction on Long Island and elsewhere.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation refused permission for the pipeline’s construction in May, saying it would violate water quality standards. The DEC stated in a news release at the time that construction of the $1 billion pipeline would stir up sediments and contaminants on the seabed, including mercury and copper, and negatively affect water quality. The construction would also harm the habitats of local marine life, such as shellfish beds, according to the DEC.
The standoff has brought new home construction in the region to a virtual halt and has had an impact on such major projects as the new Belmont Arena currently under construction in Elmont.
The Seaford F.D.’s current generator is capable of powering only about half of the department’s headquarters at 2170 Southard Ave., according to fire district Superintendent George Kern. “The new generator would power the whole building,” Kern said.
State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford and a former volunteer firefighter, said he has secured $300,000 in funding for the new generator. “We got the money from the state, so there’s no tax increase,” Brooks said. “This is just being held up by politics.”
“I was frankly dumbfounded when I heard of this request had been turned down,” Brooks added. “We all assumed they’d get an automatic exemption,” he said, referring to the Fire Department. In a natural disaster on the scale of Hurricane Sandy, the current generator is insufficient to power the department’s command center, which could compromise communications with units in the field, Brooks explained, clearly exasperated. “We can’t have a situation where the fire departments can’t communicate. The generator is only used in emergencies, so it couldn’t stress the system. And we’re not talking about a major installation. It’s just a half-inch bigger pipe.”
Adding urgency to the issue, Brooks said, the money for the generator will remain in the state budget only through 2020.
“The Seaford Fire Department has reached out, and we have asked them to fill out an application for gas service so we can evaluate their request,” National Grid spokesman Dominic Graziani said.
“To serve the growing and long-term need for natural gas on Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens, we need additional natural gas supply — we don’t have enough to keep up with the increasing demand,” Graziani said. “As a result, we cannot process applications for new and expanded gas service in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island until the current gas supply constraints are addressed.”
Kern said the department is considering other options, including propane, diesel and combination propane-diesel systems.
According to Brooks, the Seaford department isn’t the only one fighting National Grid’s moratorium. “I know at least five others in the same situation,” he said.
In the long term, such questions are less likely to arise as Nassau County makes the transition to wind and other alternative fuel sources. “But none of these are likely to be ready anytime soon,” Brooks said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered National Grid to begin installing natural gas service for more than 1,100 customers who were previously denied service. The move came as the state’s Public Service Commission continued to investigate whether any natural gas shortage really exists.
Cuomo also directed the PSC to investigate whether National Grid has adequately provided for the state’s natural gas needs this winter, pointing out in a statement that even if approved, the Williams Pipeline could not come online until late 2020 at the earliest.
A PSC order to show cause has also been issued to National Grid requiring the utility to “implement an alternative supply-and-demand reduction plan to ensure the safety and reliability of the gas system.” Failure to comply with the PSC order and with the governor’s order to restore service could result in millions of dollars in fines against the utility.