‘Gas is incompatible with New York’s future. Despite knowing this, National Grid continues to push for more gas infrastructure.’

Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Vice President Al Gore at an event in July, when the governor signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

National Grid supplies gas to 1.8 million customers in New York City and Long Island. In the city, they provide gas for home heating, cooking, and hot water only. They are not licensed to provide energy in New York City, only gas. If New York City is to have a climate resilient future, National Grid should not exist here. 

Earlier this year, after years of trying, National Grid was finally stymied in their efforts to ram through the Williams Pipeline. In the final stages of that battle, they tried to extort New Yorkers by saying without the pipeline, New York City would not have enough gas. They instituted a gas moratorium on new and existing connections and told customers who were shut off there was nothing they could do except call their representatives to support the pipeline. Then they blast-emailed all their other customers to call their representatives in support of the pipeline in an ethically dubious way.

Despite these strongarm tactics, it was all lies. Their bluff was called and once their franchise was threatened they immediately found the capacity to resume connections. The moratorium was all for show. What this political ploy showed was National Grid would rather let New Yorkers suffer through winter without heat if it meant they could ram through another pipeline.

In 2019, New York passed the Climate and Communities Protection Act (CLCPA), which states that the state must reach 70 percent renewable generation by 2030 and 100 percent carbon free energy by 2040. These are state mandates that can only happen through new renewables. Unfortunately, outside of the large-scale hydropower upstate, on renewables New York remains at 5 percent wind and solar penetration. In order to meet that 70 percent mandate, New York must scale up renewables, and fast. 

But scaling up on renewables can only happen through electricity, not gas. As David Roberts of Vox wrote, “natural gas is [still] a fossil fuel, and if its emissions are not captured and buried, it can’t be part of a net-zero-carbon grid either.” A National Grid executive has even gone so far as to admit this, saying getting customers to shift to alternate fuels is “obviously not something [we] had been advocating for” since it isn’t “our business.” He rightly knows their business is gas.

Yet gas is incompatible with New York’s future. In fact, in a landmark precedent, the CLCPA was cited in the justification for New York state’s final rejection of the Williams Pipeline saying as much. That means in New York City, National Grid’s entire business model will be counter to state law in less than two decades.

Despite knowing this, National Grid continues to push for more gas infrastructure. Since they legally cannot build new renewable infrastructure, we cannot have a renewable future with National Grid in New York City.

Today, they are in the midst of building the North Brooklyn Pipeline. This pipeline through Bushwick and Brownsville is an attempt to further lock in fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when the science, the politics, and the economics say this is a bad idea. Courageous activists have fought this project, correctly saying it is not a “replacement of leaking pipelines, it is an expansion to charge us, the rate-payers, millions of dollars in rate hikes to fill their shareholders.” Last Thursday, those activists shut down the worksite locking themselves to the pipeline in opposition with four arrests. Friday, they repeated the action and three more were arrested. On Monday, Congresswoman Velazquez, Comptroller Stringer, Senator Salazar, and other electeds joined the community in opposition.

Their actions should highlight what we should already know: Now is the time for New York to reject National Grid once and for all.

In order to meet the climate targets mandated by the state and to avert the worst of climate catastrophe, we know our renewable energy grid must be a distributed energy grid that is resilient in the face of greater and stronger storms. We also know that these investor-owned utilities’ entire business model is predicated on extracting as much profit from the current system. As Upton Sinclair famously said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” They rely on short-term profits, continuing, extending, and upgrading fossil fuel infrastructure, all to increase returns to investors. It is antithetical to long-term sustainability.

It is at this time that we must call for a publicly-owned, democratically-controlled energy system. Only through public ownership can we scale up renewable energy to not only meet our CLCPA mandates but also meet the necessary scaling down of gas across the state. Through public power, we can have the renewable heating and induction ovens necessary to have a livable future in New York. National Grid has proved time and time again that their entire business is predicated on fossil fuels. For the renewable energy future we need, National Grid should no longer exist in New York City. 

Aaron Eisenberg is a climate activist with the NYC Democratic Socialists of America

National Grid responds: National Grid has a strong legacy of serving the communities of New York City and Long Island with natural gas to heat their homes and businesses. It’s been a safe, reliable and economical choice for our 1.9 million customers who depend on our service every day of the year.

Safety, reliability, the integrity of our energy system and meeting the needs of our customers are the basis of all our decisions. And to keep the gas system safe, we need to continuously invest in its upkeep. Just in the same fashion as one would perform routine maintenance on a vehicle or around the home. We have confidence in running our energy system to ensure a high level of service for our customers. This expertise is especially important as we continue to transition to a cleaner energy future. And, while part of National Grid is a regulated business, we have two arms of the company outside of our core business–National Grid Ventures and National Grid Partners–currently making significant investments in renewables and innovation.

We believe natural gas can play a role as we decarbonize our energy system. One of our aims is to leverage the existing gas network to the greatest extent we can. That means such things as pursuing and developing more renewable gas supply options and exploring the potential use of other technologies. But that also means doing the important day-to-day work of maintaining and upgrading the system. Avoiding routine maintenance and improvements would not be prudent for our customers in the same way it wouldn’t be for any home or vehicle owner.

As a company, we recently announced our commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, including emissions from our own operations as well as the sale of gas to customers. Our plan outlines our approach to exploring a wide range of solutions until we can deliver the affordable, reliable clean energy future our customers want and deserve–no later than 2050.

Unfortunately, there are a number of untruths and fear mongering about our intentions. Those could not be further from the truth. We live and work in the same communities as our customers and do everything we can to protect and preserve them. We regularly invest in our communities and will continue that commitment each and every day.

We don’t have all the answers, but we know the path to increase renewable energy and decarbonizing heat will be challenging. At the same time, we believe in consumer choice and affordable energy. We believe in peaceful, safe protest, and healthy, respectful discussion. National Grid will continue playing an integral role in a cleaner energy future for its customers in downstate New York for many years to come.