GUEST VIEWPOINT: County Executive Requests Gas Moratorium Delayed Until August

George Latimer | February 21, 2019

Westchester County Executive George Latimer

Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of Westchester County Executive George Latimer’s submitted testimony before the New York State Public Service Commission on Feb. 13 at the White Plains Library regarding the impending new natural gas connection moratorium to be imposed on March 15, 2019 by utility Con Edison.

Good afternoon, I’m Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

I want to thank the New York State Public Service Commission for holding this public hearing to receive public comment on Con Edison’s decision to suspend offering new gas service to customers here in Westchester County.

On Jan. 17, 2019, Con Edison announced that due to a recent trend of increasing natural gas demand, beginning March 15, 2019, it would not accept new natural gas customers in the majority of its Westchester County natural gas service territory due to an inability to meet projected future demand on the coldest winter days.

This move to abruptly and quickly halt new gas-line hook ups in Westchester County will be a tremendous blow to our economic development. This blow is particularly serious in our major cities where development has been the base of their economic revival efforts.

My office has compiled an inventory of potentially impacted projects which provides insight into the expected impacts throughout lower and middle Westchester County.

Many of these projects have been planned and reviewed by local communities and are essential to their economic future and local job creation. They include affordable housing, mixed use housing, retail and commercial developments, transit-oriented development, business expansions, and more.

Below is my rough estimate of the lost opportunity due to the gas moratorium. These numbers do not take into account the lost economic stimulus to the county. These numbers are based on data supplied by municipalities, publications and statistics.

• Residential Units to be built- 16,000

• Average Residential Rent- $3,000/month/unit or $36,000/year

• Lost Rental Income- $576 million/year

• Lost Construction Jobs- 25,000

• Lost Number of Residents- 48,000

• Lost Number of New Residents to Westchester County- 20,000

• Commercial Units to be Constructed- 2 million square feet

• Lost Rental Income- $60 million/year

• Lost Number of Permanent Retail Jobs- 5,000-7,500

• Lost Number of Construction Jobs- 3,500

To combat this crisis on the horizon, the very near horizon, I recently announced a multi-step approach to deal with this moratorium county-wide.

Of the most pressing requests I am making I have asked both Con Ed and the PSC formally in letters to delay the moratorium until the Public Service Commission issues its report. Suspending actions until 30 days after the report is due (August 1, 2019) allows us all a 30-day period to review the PSC’s findings. Also, it will allow sufficient time to assess important safety considerations and allow us here in the county to survey our own natural gas use and evaluate possible clean energy and efficiency alternatives.

Along with the letter and testifying here today I am also:

• Facilitating next steps with municipalities and Con Edison; as stated above, we are keeping a full list of projects and their timetables for construction to get a big picture of where we as a county are with demand;

• Also, we are working with our IDA to provide economic incentives to encourage businesses transitioning to greener alternatives;

• Enlisting the help of energy consultants who can guide us through the regulatory process;

• Tasking my Director of Energy & Sustainability Pete McCartt with performing a survey to explore how the county can reduce gas usage at our facilities;

• Working with the business community, and other entities, to help them navigate this moratorium and how it relates to development.

There is no technical reason of which we are aware that Con Edison cannot continue its current practice of handling peak loads for the remainder of this winter.

It is unfair to residents of all income levels to be denied the opportunity to sign up for gas service at this time.

There is also the negative impact on new businesses considering establishing a presence in the county.

That said, the county is very willing to engage with Con Edison and other stakeholders in addressing demand-side management, including gas energy efficiency and beneficial electrification.

Long-term, we need a policy that allows for new gas customers, while managing the level of demand for natural gas. Both are possible.

But we should lift the current moratorium, which is unduly punitive to Westchester County, until at the very least the PSC report is issued.

My office stands ready to work with Con Edison, elected officials, local businesses, and environmental advocates to find better solutions that will not have such a chilling impact on Westchester County.

George Latimer
George Latimer, Westchester County Executive