PSC Schedules Hearings on Con Edison Natural Gas Connection Moratorium; Approves $223M Smart Solutions Program

John Jordan | February 2019

ALBANY—The New York State Public Service Commission has scheduled public hearings in White Plains next week to solicit public comment on the impending moratorium on new natural gas connections by utility Con Edison set to begin on March 15.

The PSC will hold meetings at the White Plains Library at 100 Martine Ave. on Wednesday, Feb. 13. The sessions will include information forums that will run from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., as well as public statement hearings at 2:30 p.m. and at 6:30 p.m.

The PSC also took actions on major initiatives by the utility to increase energy efficiency and reduce consumer dependence on dirty fossil fuels with the approval of its Smart Solutions program at a session held today. The commission at a meeting in Albany approved $223 million in funding for Con Edison’s Smart Solutions program aimed at achieving energy efficiency, electrification, lower natural gas demand and the replacement of energy derived from “dirty fossil fuels” with smart energy saving solutions.

In terms of the natural gas connection moratorium, business and political leaders have expressed deep concern that a long-lasting moratorium could have a dramatic impact on the billions of dollars in new development projects that are in the pipeline in the affected areas of the county that include the cities of Mount Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle and White Plains.

Con Edison released a statement on Jan. 18 that due to a recent trend of sharp increases in natural gas demand, it would not accept new natural gas customers in the majority of its Westchester County natural gas service territory beginning on March 15. The moratorium was imposed due to the utility’s inability to meet projected future demand on the coldest winter days.

PSC staff are investigating the changing market conditions that led to Con Ed’s decision. The utility has stated that the natural gas connection moratorium could be extended to points south in New York City. The utility has blamed a spike in customers switching from oil to natural gas as well as new development projects coming on line in major cities in Westchester as part of the reason for the natural gas supply shortfall. Another key factor behind the moratorium is regulatory policies by New York State agencies and advocacy by environmental groups that have blocked proposed natural gas pipeline connections into the region. The utility has stated to Real Estate In-Depth that approval of the Smart Solutions program would not have prevented the moratorium in Westchester nor would it be a panacea to solve the natural gas shortage in the region.

PSC staff will develop a report on its findings on July 1 that will include a review of how utilities across the state are meeting customer needs in a manner consistent with the state’s energy goals. The PSC report will also include the input from stakeholders who testified at the public hearings or submitted testimony to the PSC.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer on Monday said the county would request the PSC to ask Con Edison to delay the imposition of the moratorium. Latimer, as well as a host of city officials, developers and representatives of the Business Council of Westchester, which has established a task force in response to the moratorium, are expected to testify at the PSC hearings next week.

The Con Edison proposed solutions approved today by the PSC focus on reducing energy demand through energy efficiency measures for its gas customers and supporting beneficial electrification through the deployment of heat pump technology. These measures will reduce future gas demand that would have otherwise resulted from the practice of converting fuel oil customers to natural gas.

The commission denied the company’s proposal to incentivize shareholders to add supply enhancements, such as compressed or liquefied natural gas supply sources, but specifically noted that the company is not prohibited from pursuing such projects without shareholder incentives as it has done in the recent past.

John Rhodes, chairman of the New York State Public Service Commission

“The PSC is providing Con Edison with the ability to deploy non-traditional solutions to address the customer needs currently met with natural gas and expects Con Edison to use these tools to help its customers and protect environment,” said PSC chair John Rhodes. “Con Edison needs to move quickly and put forward innovative solutions designed to meet current and future energy demands throughout its serve territory.”

Con Edison’s portfolio of demand-side approaches includes initiatives targeted at low-to moderate-income customers, multifamily properties and government buildings that provide critical community services. The commission stated that it recognizes that this funding authorization allows the company to not only meet the unique needs of its service territory, but to get a jumpstart on achieving the new aggressive energy efficiency and heat pump targets recently adopted by the commission in December 2018 under the state’s New Efficiency New York program.

Public Hearing Information

For those who cannot attend or prefer not to speak at a public statement hearing, there are several other ways to provide your comments to the commission. Comments should refer to Case 17-G-0606. Comments will become part of the record considered by the commission. Written comments may be read on the website by searching Case 17-G-0606 and clicking on the “Public Comments” tab.

Via the Internet or Mail: Comments may be entered directly into the case file by locating the case via the home page of the commission’s website, www.dps.ny.gov, by clicking on “Search” and entering 17-G-0606 in the “Search by Case Number” field. A commenter should click on the “Post Comments” button located at the top of the page and leave the comment by completing the form to which he or she is then directed.

The public may also send comments electronically to the Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, at secretary@dps.ny.gov or by mail or delivery to Secretary Burgess at the New York State Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350.

Toll-Free Opinion Line: Individuals may choose to submit comments by calling the commission’s Opinion Line at (800) 335-2120. Callers should refer to the “Con Edison Moratorium case.” This line is set up to receive in-state calls 24 hours a day. These calls are not transcribed but a summary is provided to the Administrative Law Judges who will report to the Commission.

The PSC requests that comments via these alternative means be submitted by Feb. 28, 2019.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth