New York’s Pipeline Moratorium is Creating Big Problems in New England

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Back in April, Energy Fairness Executive Director Paul Griffin wrote about the important role of energy infrastructure in delivering energy supplies to consumers and the problems created by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s polices against new pipelines. Now, thanks to a lack of infrastructure, New York’s energy woes are expanding beyond its borders.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo have repeatedly opposed pipelines in recent years, despite a lack of adequate pipeline infrastructure to support New York’s rapidly growing population and the state being the fifth-largest natural gas consumer for electric power generation. The problem has become so severe that earlier this year, Con Edison announced a moratorium on new natural gas customers due to low supplies.

The problems don’t end there, however. The pipeline blockade is also exacerbating natural gas shortages throughout New England at a time when the region’s dependence on natural gas is only growing. These shortages mean that New England’s power grid is facing challenges keeping the lights on and slamming residents with ever higher electricity bills. Now, nearly a dozen Massachusetts towns are subject to moratoria on new natural gas connections thanks to a lack of pipeline capacity because of Governor Cuomo’s policies.

New England is rapidly becoming more and more dependent on natural gas fired power and shortages may result in reliability issues for customers. Back in February, the Independent System Operator New England reported that gas-fired generation on its grid had gone from 18% of system capacity in 2000 to 47% in 2018. Those numbers will only continue to grow after the retirement of the Plymouth Nuclear Plant which will be primarily replaced by gas fired generation.

ISO-NE has issued several warnings about the growing shortage, recently declaring that “several factors make fuel security a growing concern,” since New England’s grid is “increasingly dependent on natural gas for power generation” and pipeline capacity is “not always adequate to deliver all the gas needed for both heating and power generation during winter.”

ISO-NE has proposed policies to pay electricity generators to maintain on-site fuel stores in case of major weather events, but those measures will come at a high cost for consumers, adding around $158 million per year to customers’ power bills. That would be a big blow for the region, which already pays 69% more than most Americans for electricity.

The great irony of the situation lies in the fact that these policies are only increasing green house gas emissions in the region. Because New England power generators don’t have reliable access to natural gas, they are often forced burn oil for power which is more expensive and releases more emissions than clean-burning natural gas. This only underlines the absurdity of Governor Cuomo’s pipeline blocking policies, which are supposed to be about fighting climate change, but are instead only exacerbating the problem.

New England’s experiences paint a dire picture of what happens when lawmakers play political games with important energy infrastructure. Increasing natural gas supplies in Northeast would be a win for both consumer and the environment. Hopefully Governor Cuomo will take note before it’s too late.