Con Edison and the state’s top utility regulators served as a verbal punching bag Wednesday at the first public hearing on the utility’s planned natural gas moratorium.
“Con Ed has horribly bungled this whole situation and risks dire economic consequences to the community,” said Westchester County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, a Democrat representing Hastings-on-Hudson.
Shimsky joined a line of elected officials expressing dismay at the utility’s planned moratorium at a hearing hosted by the Public Service Commission in White Plains.
“The dreams of homeowners and the future economic health of many of our communities hang in the balance,” Shimsky said.
The moratorium, blocking new natural gas connections in most of Westchester, is scheduled to start March 15. Con Edison says natural gas demand has outpaced supply and it needs to ensure current customers are covered on winter’s coldest days. Elected officials stressed at the hearing that, without natural gas, commercial property developers could look elsewhere.
“Developers that are looking at Westchester County for any type of construction –residential, commercial of any sort – will be dealing with one county that has a moratorium and no other area that does,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer said.
The moratorium, he said, gives an advantage to “Long Island, Fairfield County, the Hudson Valley and northern New Jersey, all at the expense of Westchester County.”
Throughout Westchester, there are about 16,000 future rental units that could be affected by the moratorium, according to Latimer. If those residential projects are thwarted, his office estimates the county would miss out on 25,000 construction jobs and 48,000 future residents.
Latimer, a Democrat, repeated his call for a suspension of the start date for the moratorium, to Aug. 1 at the earliest.
“We are working with our county IDA and other IDAs to provide incentives that transition businesses to greener alternatives, but that cannot happen in 45 days,” he said.
White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach noted his city of 57,000 people has 22 active and approved development projects, with 30 more in the pipeline representing 6,000 residential units. With so many variables and risks in those projects alone, Roach said the moratorium could have an impact.
“I’ve seen what happens on the development side of things,” the Democratic mayor said. “A window opens, and a window closes.”
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said in prepared remarks read into the record that major projects in his city, including the long-awaited renewal of Chicken Island, could similarly be in jeopardy under the moratorium.
“Everything will come to a grinding halt, not just Chicken Island,” Spano said. “Developers, large and small, have made it abundantly clear to me that they would have to stop their projects if they’re unable to get natural-gas service.”
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Scarsdale Democrat, said the combination of higher costs for renewable alternatives to natural gas, and opposition to natural gas pipelines in the state, “raises the spectre that the proposed moratorium could last for years before the underlying conditions improve. That’s not acceptable.”
David Buchwald, an assemblyman representing White Plains, said the PSC “failed the people of Westchester” and called for a Watergate style accounting of “what did the Public Service Commission know and when did it know it?”
His comments followed testimony from a Con Edison representative at the hearing that the utility had notified the PSC that a moratorium was possible in September, as well as in a filing before then.
“Con Ed might point to a footnote on page 236 of some document filed with the Public Service Commission in 2017, but that is not the same as providing actual notice to customers,” Buchwald said.
The PSC, he added, “should re-evaluate its assumption that just because something is filed with the PSC, that that provides actual notice to the public.”
At a press conference before the hearing, advocates for renewable energy implored the state not to use the moratorium as a reason to expand natural gas infrastructure.
“We need renewables – heat pumps, geothermal, solar,” said Courtney M. Williams, co-founder of Safe Energy Rights Group and a Peekskill resident. “We have the technology now. We need to stop dumping money into dangerous, antiquated gas infrastructure. We need to stop pretending we have a choice between business as usual and taking climate change seriously.”