New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared war on natural gas pipelines — and New Englanders are caught in the crossfire.
In 2016, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) blocked an interstate gas pipeline project designed to carry fuel from Pennsylvania to consumers in New York and New England. Since then, Cuomo’s appointees at the NYDEC have blocked several other projects, through a contentious provision of the Clean Water Act. They are now blocking three gas pipelines with a total capacity of 1.5 billion cubic feet per day.
As I show in a report for the Manhattan Institute, Cuomo’s pipeline blockade is exacerbating the ongoing natural gas shortage in New England at the very time the region’s dependence on gas is growing. Two main results of the shortage are obvious: New England’s electric grid is facing increasing reliability challenges and consumers are getting slammed with yet-higher energy costs. Completing the trifecta: increased greenhouse gas emissions.
About a dozen Massachusetts towns are now subject to moratoria on new natural gas connections. Some of them, including Northampton and Easthampton, have been dealing with such moratoria since 2014. The latest shutoffs were announced earlier this year by Holyoke Gas & Electric and Middleborough Gas and Electric. The announcements came a few weeks after Consolidated Edison, the utility that provides gas and electricity to customers in New York, said it would not provide any new natural gas connections in Westchester County due to a lack of pipeline capacity resulting from Cuomo’s policies.
The Empire State’s pipeline obstruction is threatening the reliability of New England’s electricity, which is increasingly dependent on gas-fired generation. In February, the Independent System Operator New England (ISO-NE) reported that gas-fired generation on its grid had gone from 18 percent of system capacity in 2000 to 47 percent in 2018.
Those numbers will continue to grow. Earlier this month, operators retired the 677-megawatt Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth. The plant’s output will be replaced primarily by gas-fired generators. Indeed, electric utilities in Connecticut and Massachusetts are expected to commission about 1,000 megawatts of new gas-fired generators this month.
ISO-NE has repeatedly warned about the growing shortage. It recently declared that “several factors make fuel security a growing concern,” adding New England’s grid is “increasingly dependent on natural gas for power generation” and that pipeline capacity is “not always adequate to deliver all the gas needed for both heating and power generation during winter.”
Unable to count on pipelines to deliver the fuel the utilities need, ISO-NE has proposed policies that will pay electricity generators to maintain on-site fuel stores to help ensure reliability during extreme weather events. (New England has seen a few of those). If approved by federal regulators, those measures could add as much as $158 million per year to New Englanders’ electricity bills.
That cost will further inflate the region’s already-high energy prices. In 2018, electricity in New England cost an average of 17.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, about 69 percent higher than the U.S. average. In addition, the lack of gas supplies will hinder efforts to replace fuel oil with less-expensive natural gas. It costs about $1,520 to heat a home in the Northeast with oil. Heating that same home with gas costs about $752. The lack of new gas supplies mean that New Englanders will have to a) shiver more in the winter, or b) continue burning more-expensive heating oil.
Finally, the slowdown in replacing fuel oil is slowing efforts to slash emissions. Since New England’s electricity generators don’t have reliable gas, they often must burn oil. That’s a minus. Why? During combustion, oil produces about 27 percent more carbon dioxide than gas.
According to an analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund, during the cold snap that hit New England between Christmas Day 2017 and January 9, 2018, the region’s generators burned nearly 2 million barrels of oil. During that period, oil accounted for more than a quarter of the juice produced in ISO-NE. The group concluded that tight supplies caused a spike in gas prices that made it cheaper for utilities to burn oil, “with the net result being an increase oil burn, and consequently emissions.”
The spike in emissions underscores the absurdity of Cuomo’s pipeline blockade. The governor has repeatedly claimed he wants to fight climate change. But by blocking pipelines he is exacerbating the problem.
The punchline here is clear: increasing natural gas supplies in the Northeast would be good for consumers and the environment. Alas, New Englanders are paying a hefty price for Cuomo’s political posturing.
This piece originally appeared at The Telegram & Gazette
Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the new report, “Out of Gas: New York’s Blocked Pipelines Will Hurt Northeast Consumers.” Follow him on Twitter here.
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