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REBNY Watch

New York’s energy infrastructure threatens long-term growth

The natural gas moratorium recently imposed in Westchester County has generated a great deal of concern because it will slow the development pipeline and harm the local economy. But now we may soon face a similar crisis right here in New York City. This potential threat to development is a serious one that all New Yorkers should be following closely.

Con Edison and National Grid both warned in January that they would have to stop connecting firm natural gas customers without the approval of new or expanded pipelines that feed into our region, leading Con Edison to move forward with the Westchester moratorium weeks ago.

National Grid, which services the outer boroughs of New York City and Long Island, said in February that it would impose a moratorium of its own this May if a new pipeline – planned to pass through the city – is not approved by that time. And if the outer boroughs cannot receive any new natural gas connections, our city’s development pipeline will suffer the consequences.

This situation was entirely avoidable, since industry leaders first warned of the issue years ago.

Speaking at REBNY’s Commercial Management Leadership Breakfast in 2017, Con Edison’s then President Craig Ivey said he was “concerned about our ability to provide reliable electricity and heating given the uncertainty around New York State’s permitting of new or expanded natural gas transmission infrastructure.”

The concerns foreshadowed by Mr. Ivey at that time are now on the verge of becoming reality.

The proposed Williams pipeline, which would stretch from New Jersey to the Rockaways via New York’s lower bay, would significantly alleviate these pressures.

Despite the fact that natural gas is a cheaper, cleaner gas option – and thus favored by many consumers – many elected officials and activists worry that the construction of a new pipeline will damage New York’s environment. It is possible that these concerns will stymie the entire project.

We must look to the situation in Westchester for an example of why this prospect is so alarming. Major economic development projects in Yonkers and New Rochelle are currently threatened by the moratorium, as many potential construction sites may not be able to access the natural gas they need.

This means that projects that would collectively generate thousands of affordable homes will either face significant delay or never be built at all.
It goes without saying that this would cause huge problems for New York City. Each of the five boroughs would be adversely impacted by a moratorium; each are in dire need of more affordable housing. Furthermore, the boroughs also need good construction jobs and the economic growth offered by new development. While we have made good progress on these fronts in recent years, the reality is that this progress is jeopardized by a moratorium. We cannot accept this.

Renewables are being developed but they are years, if not decades away, from meeting the energy needs of New Yorkers and new development projects. As hearting oil has been phased out, natural gas remains the key source of energy needed for heating and cooking, and – yes – even for making electricity. The new microgrid at Hudson Yards is powered by natural gas.

That means that it is time to realize that posturing over new pipelines has already imposed a serious cost on New Yorkers and that it will only get worse without immediate action. Our elected officials and other key stakeholders need to come together and find a solution that works for all New Yorkers – even if that means approving controversial new pipeline – because the cost of inaction is simply too great. The continued success of New York City may well be at stake.

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