Common Sense & NYS Energy Policy

The latest energy news out of Albany underscores the need for some old-fashioned common sense. The same policymakers who have led a de facto blockade against natural gas and critical energy infrastructure are now outraged that New Yorkers won’t have access to affordable domestic natural gas – the very thing New Yorkers for Affordable Energy has been warning about for some time.

For several years, energy experts have projected that consumers in the northeast would face a shortage of natural gas due to the lack of infrastructure to move it from where it’s produced to where it’s needed. Situated between Pennsylvania, with its abundant natural gas reserves, and New England, New York State has been at the center of this debate. Last winter, utilities in New England were forced to import liquified natural gas from Russia of all places because there wasn’t enough cleaner, domestic natural gas moving through limited pipelines in New York.

This hasn’t been an isolated incident. New York State bureaucrats have used various legal maneuvers to block a number of critical pipeline projects for purely political reasons. While the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project has gotten a lot of attention lately, Constitution Pipeline along the Southern Tier and Northern Access across Western New York are also critical infrastructure projects that are currently stalled in New York.

So when utility companies announced earlier this year that there would be a moratorium on new natural gas customers on Long Island and in Westchester, no reasonable person could be surprised. It’s a simple concept – if you need pipelines to move natural gas from one region to another, and you don’t build those pipelines, there isn’t going to be a way to get that natural gas to the people who need it.

At Thanksgiving dinner, if more than two people want a drumstick, you have to cook more than one turkey. You can’t just carve up one turkey and then blame your kids that there aren’t three drumsticks for them to share. Right now, New York State policymakers are screaming for a third drumstick but they refuse to cook another turkey.

This is all happening despite the fact that official state policy lists natural gas as an “essential” part of New York’s energy mix. The New York State Public Service Commission has noted the critical role natural gas plays in the economy: “Natural gas can also act as a catalyst for economic growth by attracting businesses to New York. Individuals or corporations considering locating or expanding business in New York will contemplate the availability of gas infrastructure. If infrastructure is not available, those businesses, and the jobs associated with them, may not choose New York.” [NY PSC, 6/15/16]

So what’s behind all the confusion about natural gas? A small and very vocal band of activists who believe that no energy source is pure enough. Climate change is a worthy cause, but while these activists have big dreams and visions for what the future may hold, we need more than just dreams and visions to power our state and heat our homes.

It wasn’t so long ago that natural gas was widely embraced by the environmental movement – and for good reason. Since 1990, U.S. natural gas production is up 37 percent and greenhouse gas emissions are down 17 percent. From 2005-2015, natural gas consumption increased 24 percent – contributing to dramatic drops in a number of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide (down 66 percent), fine particulate matter (down 34 percent), and nitrogen oxide (down 20 percent).

As a coalition, New Yorkers for Affordable Energy supports New York’s ambitious goals for a renewable energy future. And because we live in the real world, we also understand that natural gas is a critical foundation for that future. Only cleaner-burning, domestic natural gas can provide the reliability to keep the system running when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. Natural gas is also critical to keeping energy affordable for New Yorkers who already struggle to heat their homes through cold winters.

So when we discuss the energy challenges facing our state, let’s employ a little common sense and get real with one another.