Stringer: Time To Nationalize Public Utilities Amid National Grid Crisis


City Comptroller Scott Stringer said today it’s time the government starts seriously considering nationalizing public utilities, starting with taking control of the natural gas industry.

Stringer’s comments come on the heels of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today issuing a letter to gas and power company National Grid CEO John Pettigrew and President John Bruckner giving 14 days notice of the state’s intent to revoke National Grid’s certificate to operate its downstate gas franchise.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo’s sharp words come as the state and National Grid are deadlocked centered around the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s rejection earlier this year of a proposal from National Grid to build the 37-mile Williams Cos Inc’s Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) pipeline that would tap into an existing pipeline stretching from Pennsylvania to New York City.

The power company, which supplies a large amount of gas heat for Brooklyn residents, maintains the pipeline has become an urgent need, as the economy in New York City is booming, and their current pipeline is at capacity. Thus, they imposed the moratorium meant to prevent a gas shortage during colder days which would result due to the lack of NESE.

But Cuomo writes in his letter that “National Grid’s actions clearly violated the State’s mandated policy for utilities: “to formulate and carry out long-range programs, individually or cooperatively, for the performance of their public service responsibilities with economy, efficiency, and care for the public safety, the preservation of environmental values and the conservation of natural resources.”

In his letter, Cuomo called National Grid either “grossly negligent in relying exclusively on the speculative construction of a private pipeline” or “deliberately defrauded the people of the state.”

Cuomo’s letter concludes that he is giving National Grid 14 days to “present meaningful and immediate remedial actions” or their certificate to operate in New York City Could be revoked.

According to Bloomberg News, Consolidated Edison, which has imposed a similar moratorium for gas hookups in Westchester County, north of New York City, said if National Grid loses their certificate to operate, they can step to the plate and meet the city’s demand for natural gas for as long as five years without imposing a moratorium on new hookups at the end of that period.

However, Con Ed no longer sees the same growth opportunities in the gas transmission business as it did five years ago, and doesn’t expect to make additional significant investments.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer

But Stringer, in applauding Cuomo’s actions, said its time for the government to seriously consider taking over public utilities.

“It is time to recognize that National Grid and Con Edison’s business models are premised on digging us deeper into the climate crisis. We can’t leave our climate future in the hands of utilities who only want to line their pockets by preserving the status quo,” said Stringer in a statement.

“Rather than letting National Grid walk away with a fine or letting their franchise be taken over by an equally profit-driven competitor, the City and State should explore the feasibility of a public takeover of the natural gas system. We need to begin to responsibly develop plans to replace gas infrastructure with renewable and electric alternatives. After years of unchecked fossil fuel expansion, it’s clear we cannot count on the utilities being cooperative partners.

“Natural gas expansion is incompatible with our climate objectives and it’s time to start considering putting power in the hands of the people,” the Comptroller added.