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Dominion defends pipeline as necessary for NY state's electric needs


Pipeline companies are not 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. Two projects have already been canceled. But a pipeline company representative says the projects are not as harmful as opponents say, and 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 all that’s different now, particularly in New York state, where two major pipelines 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, on Earth Day in April, 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 Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation, after the agency extended the public comment period.

Frank Mack, the communications project manager for the pipeline says it’s the final piece of the puzzle in what’s been a two-and-a-half year project.

“We’re anxious to get that,” Mack said.

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

Mack says 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 says the company has a good safety record.

He says 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 a New York based union contractors, and it’s for New York customers, in upstate and downstate New York,” Mack said.

But he says, 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 to 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 says 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, says Cuomo, who pleased activists when he banned hydrofracking in the state, has a reputation now 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.

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation, Sean Mahar, 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 September 12, over a month ago, but it’s not know when that decision will come.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.