Brooklyn Paper: ‘A threat to our livelihoods:’ Ahead of National Grid hearings, BK pols urge action against new gas vaporizers

September 16, 2022

Originally published in Brooklyn Paper on September 16, 2022.

A dozen Brooklyn councilmembers on Wednesday introduced a resolution calling on state government agencies to take action against new fossil fuel infrastructure proposed by National Grid ahead of a set of public hearings on the project.

“There is no justification for new infrastructure that supports fossil fuels,” said Williamsburg Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, the resolution’s prime sponsor. “It is 2022, we must do better. We are pushing on National Grid to do right by our communities for the final time.”

The Public Service Commission considers rate hikes

 

The multinational utility company has been trying for years to get approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to build a pair of new Liquified Natural Gas vaporizers at the Greenpoint Energy Center on the banks of Newtown Creek. In May, after months of delays, DEC announced they would suspend their decision until the state’s Public Service Commission decides “whether the proposed project is demonstrably needed for reliability purposes.”

Last summer, the PSC approved a rate hike for National Grid, but ruled that any large-scale fossil fuel projects — like the new vaporizers — would be subject to further review before the company could be allowed to recoup the costs of construction from the public. 

The DEC’s decision to pass the baton to the PSC before it makes its final ruling kicked off that review process, which will include four public information sessions and public hearings on Sept. 20 and 21.

“They are a threat to our livelihoods, to our communities, especially communities of color,” Gutiérrez said of National Grid. “They have known that the community has had a resounding amount of support to oppose any of the rate hikes for years and they continue to put these proposals [out.]”

If passed, the resolution — which was co-sponsored by the majority of Brooklyn’s councilmembers, plus one representative from the Queens district that abuts Newtown Creek — would call for the DEC to reject National Grid’s air pollution permit application and for the PSC to deny rate hikes for the vaporizers and any infrastructure associated with the vaporizers.

‘A critical back-up resource’

 

The new vaporizers would join a fleet of six existing LNG vaporizers at the Greenpoint Energy Center. Used only a few days a year on average, when demand for gas is very high, vaporizers turn stored liquid gas into a vapor so it can be used by the public. According to National Grid, the new vaporizers would be more efficient than any existing infrastructure, and are needed to meet a projected gap in demand for gas.

“Without this project, the Companies face unacceptable energy and/or pressure shortfalls in critical areas of the system that would adversely affect system reliability and service to thousands of customers and would potentially need to restrict service connections,” National Grid wrote of the vaporizers in an Aug. 29 report. 

The utility company contends the $65 million project would result in only temporary environmental impacts to the surrounding community, and would lower total emissions once the new vaporizers are in operation. 

But environmental activists and experts say the environmental analyses of the project did not properly assess the impacts the project would have on the neighborhoods adjacent to the energy center, including the Cooper Park Houses public housing complex just across the street from the Maspeth Avenue depot. 

“I know my community will not be able to heal or rest until we know that National Grid stops expanding their poison for good,” said Elisha Fye, vice president of Cooper Park Houses tenants association, in a statement. “National Grid has refused to listen to the thousands of public comments and adjust its business model to stop poisoning us for profit.”

Bryan Grimaldi, vice president of Corporate Affairs in New York for National Grid, said the company is committed to the state’s climate change laws, and to its “Fossil-Free Future” plan.

“We are disappointed that some of our elected leaders chose to score political points over ensuring safety and affordability for their constituents,” Grimaldi said. “This energy infrastructure is essential to provide safe, affordable and reliable service to our customers throughout the city on the coldest days of the year and to be available in the event of a supply disruption. It is a critical back-up resource for which there is no other solution to ensure that we have the capacity to provide heat to homes, schools, and businesses, exactly when it is most needed. Our customers, their constituents, deserve better.”

Some say the project is not truly needed to meet demand for natural gas — the vaporizers are only used a few days a year, and climate change means winters are getting warmer

‘A very strong message’

 

New Yorkers are tired of paying for new fossil fuel infrastructure, especially since the city and state have passed legislation aiming to move away from fossil fuels, said Rami Dinnawi, an environmental justice coordinator at Williamsburg nonprofit El Puente.

“It’s not fair and it does not make any sense for us to pay millions upon millions of dollars for infrastructure in order for National Grid to make an extra buck for a few years,” Dinnawi said.

He encouraged North Brooklyn residents to attend a rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Sunday, Sept. 19, and the public hearings to make their voices heard. The PSC will hold two virtual hearings on Sept. 20, and two in-person hearings on Sept. 21. 

The hearings will give the community an opportunity to send a “very strong message” to the PSC that the community does not want the new vaporizers, said Councilmember Lincoln Restler, who co-sponsored the resolution.

“Climate change is the number one threat that we, as a community, are facing,” he said. “How can we possibly spend $65 million additional dollars on new vaporizers to expand our dependence on fossil fuels? It is the wrong thing to do… even when you ask National Grid, they will tell you that they only plan to use them for five or six or seven years. This is short-term fossil fuel infrastructure that we should not be investing in.”

Council resolutions are not binding legislation – if passed, the motion would only send a message to the DEC and PSC, and would not require them to make any changes.

The real purpose of the resolution is “extending an arm” to the state government, Gutiérrez said, and making clear that a large bloc of city lawmakers are opposed to the vaporizers. Politicos on the state and even federal levels are also urging the state to veto the project, Restler added, including Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, state Senator Julia Salazar and state Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, and even senator Chuck Schumer.

“We need our colleagues’ support to pass this resolution so that we can continue to elevate the fact that we are not scared of National Grid,” Gutiérrez said. “The rate hikes come at the host to us, the residents. There has been a strike for months, and they continue to steamroll us and believe that they are so empowered to do so.”