Andrew Karpan

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Sometime last month, National Grid began laying a little over 6,000 feet of new pipe under Bushwick and East Williamsburg in a project that the business — the sole natural gas supplier for much of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island — says is the latest phase of its Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project, a venture it ties to the needs of “the area’s economic growth.” Residents can expect to see streets suddenly torn up, blocked off by tape, and then covered up as if nothing has changed at all. 

It’s anticipated completion date is fall of the next year.

“It’s harmful to the earth and the environment, but it also poses a potential risk in the future of exploding and that would really have a negative impact on the immediate area,” State Senator Julia Salazar tells Bushwick Daily of the project, which she publicly opposes and connects to her larger opposition to the utility’s expansion plans.

Image from National Grid

“If we’re serious about getting off natural gas in the next ten years, it will just be a stranded asset,” Salazar says. 

It’s not the only asset that National Grid hopes to strand on this crumbling plane. More controversial is the Northeast Supply Enhancement, an approximate $1 billion proposed pipeline extension known as the Williams pipeline, after the Oklahoma-based pipeline giant that had been all set to lay it across the Lower New York Bay after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave it the okay back in May. 

Opposition, led by Salazar, was more fevered and widespread — the New York Department of Environmental Conservation shuttered the project in May over concerns it would raised mercury and copper levels, therefore disturbing shellfish beds in the Bay. The company responded by feverishly emailing its customers that “we need this additional supply to support all new requests for natural gas.” 

While the pipeline would not have been on line until at least late next year, gas has been mysteriously hard to come by since the denial. Over the summer, National Grid began its now-notorious moratorium on new hook ups. A slew of local restaurant brands–Empanada City and BK Jani among them—were stopped in their tracks, empty pipes in their hands, waiting for a utility man who would never come. Other businesses, like the since-shuttered General Deb’s, discovered themselves on an indefinite, kafkaesque waiting list after National Grid pulled their plug. 

Image from the National Grid

“We need additional natural gas supplies to serve requests for new or expanded natural gas service,” National Grid spokesperson Karen Young said in a statement to Bushwick Daily, nodding obliquely to the narrative that the company has been working on subtly wedding together. A New York Post editorial put National Grid’s case more bluntly last month: “Its moratorium is necessary because a key proposed pipeline got blocked.”

Some in Albany are more suspicious of how a rejected pipeline, due to be built next year, would create a shortage now. Thirteen state senators, including Salazar, sent a letter last month to the Public Service Commission urging a public investigation of National Grid’s claims. Governor Cuomo signed orders demanding power be restored and publicly questioned the company’s franchise to act as the regions’ sole energy provider. 

Richard Berkley, a lawyer who directs the Public Utility Law Project, tells Bushwick Daily that National Grid likely violated its own legally-obligated procedures for denials in its sudden rush to deny service this year. 

“They have been acting as if that duty doesn’t apply to them any more. They’ve been acting in a way that’s inconsistent with their legal duties under the terms of their franchise,” Berkley says. “They have a legal duty to plan ahead. Could it have been any surprise to the company that Brooklyn was growing?”

With National Grid, Salazar sees the larger failure of privately-run utilities; the demonstration of a company more responsible to delivering returns from a profitable pipeline deal to their shareholders then delivering energy to customers who have few other choices. And its bleak demands, she says, act against a public need to transition away from gas-based heat to begin with. 

“National Grid is not naturally incentivized to transition to renewable energy use, Salazar adds, “it doesn’t make sense for us to allow National Grid to continue to expand natural gas infrastructure.”

Image from the National Grid.

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