BEDFORD, N.Y. – The impact of Con Edison’s abrupt freeze on new applications for natural gas service was expected to vary widely throughout Westchester, with the major blow likely to be felt in the county’s southern cities.
Government officials were still scrambling this week to assess the scope of the utility’s surprise announcement.
“Only a relatively small portion of our town is served by natural gas,” Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick said Monday. Still, he noted, “this [moratorium] certainly could have ramifications if it extends beyond the next two-and-a-half years.” By then, the town is expected to have completed a major sewer project in Katonah and Bedford Hills.
Con Ed, in its initial announcement of the moratorium last month as well as a briefing for government officials last week, was mum on the freeze’s duration. Burdick said he has asked Con Ed to supply a map of all natural gas lines running beneath Bedford.
The utility, saying that growing demand for natural gas was challenging its capacity to deliver the product, declared Jan. 17 that it “will no longer be accepting applications for new natural gas connections from customers in most of our Westchester County service area.”
The moratorium, which took many in business and government by surprise, was scheduled to begin March 15 but County Executive George Latimer said he will urge the state Public Service Commission to delay the freeze.
On Jan. 18, a day after Con Ed’s announcement, he called on the utility to huddle with local, county, state and federal elected officials “at the earliest possible date.”
That date turned out to be last Thursday, Jan. 31, when government officials attended a two-hour meeting at Con Edison’s Westchester headquarters in Rye.
At a briefing this past Monday, Feb. 4, Latimer announced “a few steps that we’re going to take immediately.” They include consulting with “professionals in the energy area on ways...we can reduce the use of gas at our county facilities [like the airport and Rye Playland].”
He said he assumed “similar efforts” on the part of local government.
In a prepared statement after the briefing, Latimer called the moratorium “a serious move that will impact development in Westchester County—particularly in our major cities where development has been very much part of their economic revival efforts.” He said the county will be “taking on the responsibility that a regional government should: coordinate—not dictate—a response.”
Latimer said the goal was “to bring together all local governments and plan— together—how we must respond to this.”
He said the approach includes:
• Facilitating next steps with municipalities and Con Edison;
• Including a full list of projects and their timetables for construction to get a “big picture of where we as a county are with demand”;
• Enlisting the help of energy consultants who can guide us through the regulatory process;
• Directing Pete McCartt, the county’s director of energy and sustainability, to explore how the county can reduce gas usage at its own facilities;
• Asking Joan McDonald, his director of operations, to work with the state Public Service Commission Chairman & CEO John Rhodes to encourage Con Edison to delay the moratorium and allow the county to develop an action plan;
• Working with the business community, and other entities, to help them navigate this moratorium and how it relates to development.
Latimer said he will testify at the next PSC hearing.
In his January letter, Latimer wanted, among other things, an “explanation as to what lead to the moratorium.”
Observers point, among other things, to a resurgence in development, principally in the county’s southern cities. It has spurred what Con Ed described as a “gap in meeting the growing demand for natural gas.”
“This growth is primarily due to the construction of new buildings, the opening of new businesses and conversions from oil to cleaner-burning natural gas in existing buildings,” Con Ed said in its statement.
That “new demand for gas,” the utility continued, “is reaching the limits of our existing pipelines to deliver it to our customers.”
Con Ed has encountered resistance from neighborhood and environmental groups to the construction of new pipelines. Critics argue that adding to the natural gas infrastructure could slow and even discourage the search for cleaner energy alternatives.
Rejecting that contention, the utility maintains that it “has been working aggressively to help New York State meet its clean energy goals.”
“We have taken steps to promote alternatives, such as energy efficiency, renewable natural gas and heat pump projects,” Con Ed said. “While these technologies will help meet the state’s goals, natural gas must play a role in a smooth transition to more renewables and a cleaner grid.”