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Dominion Defends Pipeline As Necessary For New York's Electric Needs


Gas pipeline companies often stake out the trajectories of proposed pipelines.
Credit Mike Groll / AP Photo

Pipeline companies aren’t having a lot of success in New York so far in 2016.

Opponents say they are dirty and continue New York’s over-reliance on fossil fuels, and two projects have already been canceled. A pipeline company representative, however, said the projects are not as harmful as opponents claim and are essential for the state’s current electric needs.

Until recently, expanding and building pipelines was not terribly controversial, as most people agreed that there was a common need to transport oil and gas for fuel and electricity. But that’s different now, particularly in New York state, where two major pipeline projects have been derailed.

First, Kinder Morgan announced it would not build a planned pipeline through portions of New York state and New England, saying market conditions were no longer favorable. The project was facing opposition in multiple states.

Then in April, on Earth Day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s environmental agency denied a key permit to the Constitution pipeline, which would have traversed Pennsylvania and upstate New York, saying it could not guarantee that the water nearby would be safe.

Now, a decision on three air-quality permits to build bigger compressors for the New Market-Dominion pipeline has been delayed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation after the agency extended the public comment period.

Frank Mack, the communications project manager for the pipeline, said it’s the final piece of the puzzle in what’s been a 2 1/2-year project. “We’re anxious to get that,” Mack said.

He said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the state Public Service Commission are backing the pipeline expansion, as is the New York State Independent System Operator, which manages the electric grid.

Mack said the company has purchased 80 to 100 acres around each of the three sites where natural gas air compressors will be built or expanded, and he said the company has a good safety record.

He said additional benefits to upstate New York include hundreds of construction jobs and $66 million in tax payments to economically strapped communities. “It is a New York project, it’s going to be built by New York-based union contractors, and it’s for New York customers, in upstate and downstate New York,” Mack said.

But he said, most importantly, National Grid, which services much of eastern New York, as well as other regions, needs the gas for its customers because wind and solar power is not developed enough yet to provide adequate power supply.

“The need for natural gas is real,” said Mack, who said it can be used as a “bridge fuel” while solar and wind power sources grow. “People have a high demand for energy, and when they flip the switch at home, they expect the electricity to come on,” said Mack.

Mack said it’s estimated that ratepayers will save $20 million because the electric utility won’t have to buy as much imported natural gas.

Opponents disagree. Walter Hang with Toxics Targeting, who has led a letter-writing campaign to the Department of Environmental Conservation, said Cuomo, who pleased activists when he banned hydrofracking in the state, now has a reputation to live up to.

“The governor can’t be a climate-change activist and continue to permit these giant pipelines, giant fossil fuel power plants, gas storage and the like,” Hang said in late September.

Hang and others opposed to the pipeline would like the state to adopt a “moratorium” on all fossil fuel-related projects in New York.

Sean Mahar, a Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman, said the public comment period was extended to “ensure the public had adequate opportunity” to provide input and that the comments will be “considered prior to making any final determination.” The public comment period ended on Sept. 12, over a month ago, but it’s not known when that decision will come.