Because of interstate pipeline supply constraints coming into a portion of Con Edison’s service area, the demand for natural gas is outpacing its availability.
While Con Edison is looking into nonpipeline solutions and a reduced reliance on fossil fuels, the energy company announced it will enact a moratorium on the natural gases as of March 15.
The decision to have a moratorium does not require approval from state officials.
“Until our efforts align demand with available supply, we will no longer be accepting applications for new natural gas connections in most of our Westchester service area,” according to a Con Ed press release. “Customer applications for new firm gas service will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis until March 15 or until such time as forecasted demand exceeds forecasted available interstate supply.”
To make its decision, the company looked at the load, which is the number of people who use gas for heat and the demand for fuel for the coldest days. Once that data was collected, Con Edison had to evaluate whether or not it would have enough of a surplus to also provide gas for any new customers, which it determined it did not.
In addition, those working on new building projects will be allowed up to 24 months to complete the projects, and customers will be provided specific timelines based on their request types.
The moratorium affects all of southern Westchester, and goes as far north as Bedford, New Castle and Ossining.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, at a Scarsdale PT Council’s legislative panel discussion Feb. 1, said she was worried about the Greenacres School renovation, which includes a large addition, but she was told the project developer had already spoken to Con Edison. Despite that, Paulin said, any building project moving forward would face much higher energy costs.
“We’re asking the Public Service Commission if someone reviewed [everything] to make sure Con Edison is evaluating it correctly,” Paulin told The Inquirer.
She said she doesn’t think Con Edison would change its mind about imposing a moratorium on natural gas lines.
If the moratorium is necessary, Paulin said the Public Service Commission will have to ensure Con Edison is offering economic incentives to use alternatives to natural gas.
Some of these alternatives, such as heat pumps, electricity and geothermal, are more expensive than gas, and Paulin said developers will be less interested in new projects if they don’t have any economic incentive to use those sources.
PSC is expected to issue a report by July 1.
At a hearing Feb. 13, municipal and county leaders spoke out against the moratorium.
Paulin, one of the speakers, asked the Public Service Commission to provide regular and diligent oversight, strong leadership, ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking to address the problem.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer expressed his concern over the moratorium as well, especially because it comes so soon after it was announced publicly.
Latimer said many proposed projects are essential to the economic future of the county and would create jobs locally.
“I’m asking that Con Edison and the leadership of the PSC suspend any action toward a moratorium until Aug. 1, 2019 at the earliest,” he said. That would allow a 30-day review period after the agency is expected to issue its report.
During that time, the county could assess safety considerations and officials could determine actions they might take regarding their own natural gas usage in the county.
But, what does the move by Con Ed mean for future capital improvement projects for Scarsdale schools and the village?
Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey believes the school district and its projects will fare well, including the major Greenacres Elementary School renovation project.
“I can’t predict the future, but as far as I can see right now, in the short term, we’ll be OK,” he said.
Deputy Village Manager Rob Cole had a similar response.
“It’s hard to predict the impacts of the moratorium right now,” Cole said. “We’ll be working with the county and other communities to address any possible issues.”
Con Edison’s representatives said the moratorium applies to new residential and commercial and industrial customer gas service connections, incremental firm gas load on existing residential and commercial and industrial customer gas accounts and new gas usage for heating, hot water, laundry and cooking.
However, according to Con Ed, those in the affected area can still connect to natural gas in Westchester if the party is seeking uninterruptible service, would like to connect a natural gas-fueled emergency generator, is a small business customer in the food/business industry, is in the northernmost sections of Westchester, or is an existing natural gas customer that is planning renovations.
In addition to the moratorium, Con Edison this month proposed a rate hike beginning January 2020 for electric and gas service in New York City and Westchester County.
The increased rate for electric service would result in an overall customer bill increase of about 4.9 percent and 8.6 percent on delivery.
“The major drivers [of the need for more revenue] are increased plant investment, higher property taxes, a reduced sales forecast and expiring customer credits, offset in part by the accelerated refund of federal income tax savings,” Con Ed president Timothy Cawley said in an email.
An increased rate for gas service would result in an overall customer bill increase of about 9.1 percent and 14.5 percent on delivery.
“The major drivers are increased infrastructure investment, increased property taxes, increased [operation and maintenance costs] and expiring credits, offset in part by the accelerated refund of federal income tax savings,” Cawley said in an email.
It is unclear how long the moratorium will remain in place.