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National Grid is holding customers hostage, says NYC public advocate

September 17, 2019 Mary Frost

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams ripped National Grid’s denial of service to thousands of new and returning customers in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island on Tuesday, calling it “reprehensible.”

“Clearly it’s a political ploy to have the Williams Pipeline built,” he told reporters at a press conference in front of National Grid headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn. “This is a privately owned company holding everybody hostage.”

Williams said National Grid has asked customers to put pressure on their legislators to support the underwater pipeline, officially called the Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline, and urged customers not to fall for the ploy.

“National Grid has encouraged customers to lobby their elected officials. That’s reprehensible,” he said. He added that Attorney General Letitia James launched an inquiry into the moratorium last week.

The $1 billion, 37-mile natural gas pipeline project, which would cut across 23 miles of lower New York Bay, was rejected by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation in May due to concerns that it could contaminate New York Harbor. Environmentalists say the state must begin to move toward a renewable energy future, and the pipeline would lock New York into a dependency on natural gas for the next 50 years.

Ruth Berkovits tells reporters that National Grid refused to turn her gas back on after she completed renovations on her two-family house in Kensington. From left, rear: State Se. Kevin Parker, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and restaurant owner Charles Linksman. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Ruth Berkovits tells reporters that National Grid refused to turn her gas back on after she completed renovations on her two-family house in Kensington. From left, rear: State Sen. Kevin Parker, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and restaurant owner Charles Linksman. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

National Grid announced earlier this year that it would not process any new applications for gas service unless DEC grants the permit. The pipeline would allow National Grid to increase its gas capacity by 14 percent.

Ruth Berkovits, who owns a two-family home on East Second Street in Kensington, says she needs to have her gas turned back on so she can rent the second floor of her house and make some income. The gas on the first floor was turned off during renovations, and she moved to the second floor temporarily. Now National Grid refuses to turn it back on.

“I’ve lived here for 40 years and I pay my bills,” she said. After her contractor filed a work order to turn the gas back on the first floor, “They said I could not get gas.”

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Charles Linksman and Peter Lee said they sunk their life savings into opening a Vietnamese restaurant, Pho 86, in Bensonhurst.

“No one even mentioned the moratorium. In July we filled out the application with National Grid; it was approved. They told us that if we had filled it out before May 15, we would have gotten gas,” Linksman said.

“Over the last three months we lost $27,000, and our employees can’t work. We lost the whole summer season. For a restaurant, you can never get that back,” Linksman said.

National Grid has manufactured the crisis, Williams and other elected officials at the press conference claimed.

“I believe they could turn on the 2,000-plus gas customers they denied tomorrow,” Williams said.

State Sen. Kevin Parker said his office has received multiple complaints and called National Grid’s actions “blackmail.”

“I’m here today to call BS on National Grid,” Parker said. “There was no warning on the moratorium. Businesses were not told. No one said after May 15 you would not be able to get gas.” He said a hearing would be coming up on Oct. 11.

He added, however, that legislators were not responsible for the state’s decision to block the pipeline.

“DEC does what DEC does. It’s not my place to tell them how to rule on natural gas.”

“They’re not good stewards,” said Assemblymember Robert Carroll. “They have a monopoly on our pipelines. They’re supposed to be the provider of last resort.”

“We had no idea this was coming,” Richard Berkley, executive director of the Public Utility Law Project said. “People were told by the company, ‘Go ahead, build your hotel, your business.’ We’re calling for an open investigation,” he said.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that construction and operation of the pipeline would result in “some adverse environmental impacts.” According to the review, however, most of these impacts would be temporary, such was water “turbidity, sedimentation, and pile driving noise.”

A Williams company spokesman told the Brooklyn Eagle that the pipeline would allow National Grid to annually displace approximately 900,000 barrels of heating oil and reduce CO2 emissions in New York City and Long Island.

The pipeline “will reduce local emissions by 300 tons per year,“ he said.

Officials said that there were steps National Grid could be taking to meet the increased demand for natural gas that triggered the moratorium, such as buying gas on the spot market. That would be more expensive, however.

While the company did not give Williams a borough-by-borough breakdown, the public advocate said National Grid has denied service to roughly 2,700 customers. Since a customer equals a meter, with an average of three people or businesses per meter, an estimated 8,000 people or businesses have been left without gas since the moratorium began.

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