Westchester County officials want more time to prepare for Con Edison’s natural gas moratorium in the southern end of the county.
County Executive George Latimer said at a press conference today that the county would request the state Public Service Commission delay Con Edison’s plan to stop accepting natural gas connections from new customers after March 15.
The state Department of Public Service, which includes the PSC regulatory board, plans to host hearings on the moratorium in Westchester on Feb. 11. In the meantime, Latimer said his office will ask the PSC “at the very least, to delay the implementation of any moratorium to give us time to work to be part of an action plan that can respond to this effectively.”
Con Edison said it needs the moratorium to ensure it can meet current demand. The utility’s plan has stoked fears of an economic slowdown for the county, as future apartment buildings and other commercial development could be blocked without an ability to attain natural gas.
“You see that economic revival in New Rochelle, you see it in White Plains, you see it in Yonkers,” Latimer said. “A moratorium of no new hookups would create a very chilling effect on that.”
Latimer addressed those concerns at the press conference, which also featured mayors Thomas Roach of White Plains and Noam Bramson of New Rochelle. County government officials met with Con Edison for about two hours on Jan. 31 to get more information on the moratorium, Latimer said. The county will use that information to direct the response from all affected municipalities.
As part of that effort, the county will compile information from all Westchester municipalities on economic development initiatives that could be affected by the moratorium. The county also plans to hire an energy consultant to counsel officials on potential responses to the moratorium. Peter McCartt, the county’s director of Energy Conservation and Sustainability, will lead a study of county facilities to see where the county can reduce its reliance on natural gas.
“Our intent is to work with all players in the game,” Latimer said, including The Business Council of Westchester, which has promised to launch its own task force toward solutions to the moratorium.
In White Plains, Roach described feeling a shock when he heard the plan from Con Edison, but he said the city does not believe the moratorium will greatly affect development already underway in and around its downtown. But, he said, municipal officials need to gather all the information they can.
“We have developers looking at projects that are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, we have one that is probably half-a-billion dollars,” Roach said. “They don’t want to build it and then have no way to heat it, to put it simply. We need to get the facts on the table as soon as possible so they can make the decisions they need to make.”
Roach said that the moratorium is a “wake-up call” that could represent “an opportunity to accelerate the transition to renewables, which is where we are headed anyway.”
Latimer, too, said the county must balance environmental concerns in its response to the moratorium.
“Our environmental concerns for the future are real,” Latimer said. “We cannot let a moment of crisis be responded to by not being realistic about the long-term implications of fossil fuels.”
Latimer’s sentiment aligns with what state officials have said in the days following the announced moratorium. In a press release Jan. 28, PSC Chair John B. Rhodes said the state will prioritize its programs that help consumers install technology to reduce heating and cooling costs, lowering demand for gas.
“The commission will continue to use all available methods – including its rate-making authority – to push utilities to address changing market dynamics in a manner that promotes both the state’s clean energy objectives and economic growth,” Rhodes said in the statement.
The PSC also recently opened review on a rate hike request from Con Edison totaling $695 million for 2020.
While the PSC has not yet announced the details of its Feb. 11 hearing, Latimer said he plans to testify wherever they are held. He’ll be there, he said, “primarily to show what the impact of this moratorium would be, that the timeframe of the implementation of this moratorium would be particularly difficult for us to deal with.”