Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to break up National Grid’s stranglehold over natural gas in Brooklyn last week amid their ongoing war over a hotly contested pipeline, which has left would-be customers without gas for more than three months and counting.
“If National Grid is unable to provide safe, affordable and reliable service to existing customers, or is unable to properly plan so that it is able to serve new customers, I direct you to consider alternatives to National Grid as franchisee for some or all of the areas it currently serves,” the governor wrote in a letter to the Department of Public Service on Aug. 27
The British-based utility company — which operates under a state-granted monopoly over gas service in Brooklyn, Queens, and parts of Long Island — announced a moratorium on accepting new customers beginning in late May, shortly after state regulators put the kibosh on Nat Grid’s scheme to construct a 23-mile-long pipeline off the coast of Coney Island that would transport hydrofracked gas from New Jersey to the Rockaways.
National Grid claims it needs the added supply in order to meet increasing energy demands, but local leaders accuse the gas purveyor of using local businesses as pawns in its power struggle with the state.
“National Grid does not have a supply problem. They have a greed problem,” said Coney Island Councilman Mark Treyger. “They’re holding people hostage in the middle of this bureaucratic tug of war.”
And as the gas company’s moritorium approaches its third month, Kings County business owners are starting to feel the squeeze.
One aspiring restaurateur finished construction of a Mexican eatery in Prospect Lefferts Garden in May, but has been unable to open because of National Grid’s long-running embargo.
“I’m ready to open. I have everything set up and ready to go. If I could get gas, I’d be open,” said Onishka Camarena. “If I don’t get gas I’ll be done. I’ll have to give it up... Everything I worked for is going to be out the window.”
Camerena has pleaded with the energy giant to lift the new-customer freeze and supply gas to El Jeffe — on Parkside Avenue between Flatbush and Ocean avenues — but they’ve instead shifted blame, directing her to the New York State legislature.
“They tell me to contact my state representative,” she said. “For what? My state representative didn’t help me open a restaurant.”
During some peak-usage hours, National Grid fails to meet its demand using its own supply, forcing them to purchase energy from other suppliers, which cuts into their bottom line, according to one local state rep.
“The business model of National Grid — their profit model — is that they want to own the pipes, and control the gas that they are distributing,” said Assemblyman William Colton (D—Midwood). “And they therefore want to build a new pipeline which will cost a billion dollars.”