Posted July 24, 2019
An important test of energy leadership is whether elected officials will act to enhance and protect strategic energy interests – a point we made in a post last week about smart, forward-looking policies that foster safe and responsible offshore energy.
A leadership corollary: First, do no harm.
We say that because, in a nation that’s the No. 1 producer of natural gas and oil in the world, leaders shouldn’t be making energy decisions that hurt those they’re supposed to serve. Unfortunately, in New York, there has been quite a bit of pain inflicted on New Yorkers by the Cuomo administration’s energy agenda.
You can get the latest details in this Wall Street Journal editorial, but here’s the gist of it: Tens of thousands of New Yorkers lost power during last week’s heat wave, and the Journal says much blame rests on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shoulders – for blocking natural gas pipelines that could fuel power plants, being over-reliant on wind and solar and forcing the premature closing of a nuclear power plant. The Journal:
… wind isn’t reliable, and the shutdown of Indian Point [nuclear plant] combined with pipeline constraints mean the city could soon lack baseload power generation when renewable power ebbs. Nuclear and natural gas can be ramped up during periods of high demand such as storms and heat waves. Wind and solar can’t. They also put more strain on the grid. New Yorkers already pay among the highest electricity rates in the country. Now they can look forward to paying more while getting less—especially when they most need it in the sweltering summer.
Indeed, with several more weeks of summer to go, we’re seeing in New York what can happen when energy policy is too much politics and too little foresight. The Empire State suffers from insufficient natural gas pipeline infrastructure – which hits public utilities that supply the electricity that powers air conditioning units. It also directly affects residential and commercial consumers. The Journal points out that Gov. Cuomo has opposed three natural gas pipelines, and now the state can’t get the natural gas it needs.
Parts of affluent Westchester County, just north of New York City, are under a moratorium on new natural gas connections because of interstate pipeline constraints imposed under Cuomo. Meanwhile, public utility National Grid has advised that applications for new and expanded natural gas service in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island won’t be processed until a proposed Williams Co. natural gas pipeline project – currently hung up with New York regulators – goes through.
Bloomberg reports that the standoff is hindering business startups and new housing. Politics is being served, not people. Bloomberg:
Environmental groups have argued that the Northeast Supply Enhancement, as the pipeline is named, is unnecessary and would further New York’s reliance on fossil fuels. Williams and National Grid say the project is needed to meet demand during the winter months, when consumption of the heating fuel peaks and prices can spike. Business advocates say that while they understand the need for environmentally-friendly alternatives to gas, the technology for renewables isn’t there yet to meet the energy needs of the region. The decision not to approve the pipeline extension is also thwarting a regional transition from heating oil to cleaner-burning gas. “Renewable projects are a long-term play, but they’re not here yet,” said Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association. “They can’t turn on lights, heat our homes or cool our buildings for many years to come.”
This kind of infrastructure deficit isn’t just New York’s problem. Last year, Independent System Operator New England, which manages the transmission grid there, warned of rolling blackouts and controlled outages due to natural gas pipeline constraints to the regional power system. Now, as the Journal notes, New York might be next.
Again, the news from New York shines a spotlight on poor energy leadership in Albany, an agenda of unforced errors with real-world consumer impacts. Yet, rather than acknowledge that his policies are largely responsible for putting New Yorkers (literally) in the hot seat, Gov. Cuomo’s response was to blame the public utility (see this tweet from Sunday).
New York is a sad case study. Unfortunately, others are making similarly shortsighted decisions. In California, the Berkeley City Council recently decided to ban natural gas in new homes, a move that could disproportionately affect minority and low-income residents. This, despite indications that banning affordable natural gas in homes can increase household energy costs (see this regional study). The most vulnerable Americans are likely to be impacted (see here and here).
These kinds of wrongheaded policies miss the fact that making climate progress has been significantly advanced by clean natural gas. Increased use of natural gas is the main reason U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide are at their lowest levels in a generation.
Instead of pursuing ill-conceived, politically driven energy policies that can end up doing more harm than good – just ask New Yorkers – leaders should get onboard with energy solutions that work for their constituents and achieve climate progress. That’s natural gas.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.