Brooklyn Boro

National Grid ordered to restore gas to 1,000-plus customers

October 15, 2019 Mary Frost
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Friday that the state has ordered National Grid to turn the gas back on for more than 1,100 former customers who had been denied service during a moratorium that the company put in place in May, after the state denied its application to build a new pipeline.

The announcement came after a Public Service Commission investigation reached a preliminary conclusion that National Grid failed to follow Public Service Law.

The ruling will not immediately help new gas customers get connected, though the commission is requiring the company to develop plans to address new accounts as well, PSC Chairperson John Rhodes said in a statement.

The commission’s order directs National Grid to immediately reconnect 1,157 former residential and small commercial customers, and to implement an alternative supply and demand reduction plan. The order also kicks off a penalty proceeding.

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The law requires utilities to provide gas service “without unreasonable qualifications or lengthy delay when sufficient gas supply exists, which the order alleges is the case for these previously existing customers,” Rhodes said in a statement.

The 1,157 customers had temporarily interrupted their gas service. When they tried to turn the gas back on, they were told they could no longer do so.

This was the case for Ruth Berkovits, who owns a two-family home on East Second Street in Kensington. At a press conference in September held by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Berkovits said she needed her gas back on so she could rent the second floor of her house and make some income. The gas on the first floor had been turned off during renovations, and National Grid refused to turn it back on.

“I’ve lived here for 40 years and I pay my bills,” she said.

Some business owners have been pushed to the point of bankruptcy, but the ruling will not immediately help them.

Restauranteurs Charles Linksman and Peter Lee said last month that they had sunk their life savings into opening a Vietnamese restaurant, Pho 86 in Bensonhurst, before the moratorium hit.

“No one even mentioned the moratorium,” 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.”

“It is the fundamental responsibility of our utilities to provide reliable service,” Cuomo said in a release. “National Grid has acted in bad faith throughout this process — first by denying over 1,100 eligible customers with service and now by failing to fulfill its core responsibility.”

Cuomo said he has directed the Department of Public Service to expand an ongoing investigation to include potential negligence in not preparing for the months ahead.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams commended the action, but expressed concern about National Grid’s lack of transparency.

“Even with the news of potential multi-million dollar penalties and orders to connect a number of eligible customers, I continue to field concerns about the lack of clarity and transparency in who will get connected and when. I urge National Grid and the commission to deliver up-to-date notification to every customer denied service — both existing and potential,” he said on Friday.

On Monday, National Grid issued a statement confirming it would turn the gas back on for some former customers, but would not hook up new customers.

“We’ve begun the process of contacting and re-connecting 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 re-connection under our current connection restriction guidelines,” John Bruckner, president of National Grid New York, said.

However, the company said, “The service connection restrictions currently in place must remain in effect for all other customers who’ve requested new or expanded service.”

National Grid also said it might have trouble meeting demand for gas this winter regardless of whether or not the pipeline was approved. The company is installing portable compressed natural gas stations and buying gas from spot commodity markets to ameliorate the shortage, it said.

Pressure to build the pipeline

National Grid has refused service in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island because, according to the company, it will not be able to meet the demand for gas without an expansion of the 10,000-mile Williams Pipeline.

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. The pipeline would increase National Grid’s gas capacity by 14 percent.

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.

Williams, the city’s public advocate, condemned the company’s denial of service in September, calling it “reprehensible.”

“Clearly it’s a political ploy to have the Williams Pipeline built,” he said. “This is a privately owned company holding everybody hostage.”

Update (Oct. 15 at 12;30 p.m.) Nation Grid’s statement issued on Monday was added to this article.

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