NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A gigantic win Monday for National Grid customers in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island means frustrated businesses and homeowners will finally get hooked up for their natural gas service needs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement with the utility to immediately lift a six-month-long moratorium on gas service that left thousands with no way to heat their buildings or run their businesses, reports CBS2’s political reporter Marcia Kramer.
National Grid will pay a $36 million penalty, including $7 million to compensate customers who were hurt by the moratorium – homeowners, small business owners, real estate developers and more.
The agreement promises the utility will meet the demand for the next two years, allowing it to restore service to any customers that it had refused and grant all pending applications.
“What the National Grid did was wrong, declaring a moratorium, just turning off the power,” said Cuomo. “It’s the most abusive practice that I’ve seen. The people stood up, and the people fought for their rights, and the people won.”
The governor’s office said National Grid will present a long-term options analysis within three months, subject to a public review process. The long-term options will be in place by Fall 2021.
Customers Denied Service Speak Out
For months, CBS2 has been demanding answers from National Grid and the governor after thousands of customers were left without gas, including a $92 million development in Nassau County and a Long Island municipal fire department in urgent need of upgrading its facilities.
“Your reporting has been right. I mean, you reported on the real-life consequences of what they did,” Cuomo said of CBS2’s reporting.
“You brought the injustice to light, you brought the abuse to light and we responded, but it was your reporting and your journalism that really brought this situation to the public awareness so that we could actually get involved,” he said. “I want to thank you for what you did. Journalism works and you showed that once again.”
In follow-up reporting, Kramer put some tough questions to National Grid’s president John Brucker.
“You imposed the moratorium in May, it’s now November, what changed in those few months,” asked Kramer.
“A willingness by customers, certainly our largest customers, to come off of some of their gas demand during peak days of the year,” said Brucker.
Couldn’t those measures have been taken before the moratorium?
“I don’t know how we answer that hypothetical question, that customers would have come to us and said ‘Yeah we’ll go burn alternative fuel’ in lieu of the gas supply that I have,” he said. “We have customers that are willing to step up and take this challenge of reducing their load.”
While National Grid’s imposed moratorium caused a lot of havoc for thousands of people – homeowners who faced winter without heat, businesses that couldn’t open – Kramer asked if is there was anything the utility would say about the pain the suffering customers have gone through the last several months.
“Most importantly, we do say we’re sorry,” said Brucker. “We’re sorry that we were not able to be there.”
The company president also said he was unaware of some of the hardships National Grid’s policy caused people until CBS2 reported on those affected.
“Many of those stories you brought to life, you brought to us, and so thank you for that,” said Brucker.
OCTOBER INTERVIEW: CBS2’s Marcia Kramer Speaks With National Grid President John Bruckner
Last month the company was told it had a week to comply with Cuomo’s directive to come up with a plan to provide natural gas or lose its monopoly.
Back in September, Jenny Wu, in her Crown Heights home mid-renovation, was in a panic. She was moving in with her husband and two sons under 3 years old.
National Grid refused to turn on their gas and the colder months were closing in fast. As of today, they still have no gas service.
“It’s very tough experience, so we have to switch to electrical hot water and heaters which cost around $1,000,” said Wi. “Then we bought induction cooktops for the time being because we don’t have gas stove top.”
It was only last week that Leslie and Adam Rashid were looking forward to a cold, grim Thanksgiving because National Grid was refusing to hook up the heat in their Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone, leaving them and their two young kids to face the oncoming winter as best they could.
National Grid customers were victims of a gas moratorium declared by the utility as it fights with the state over approval of a controversial pipeline.
That infuriated the governor, who threatened National Grid he would revoke their license to operate.
National Grid denied natural gas service to some 2,600 homeowners and businesses since May. The company blamed New York’s rejection of an application for a $1 billion pipeline bringing natural gas from Pennsylvania’s shale gas fields.
Bruckner said in a statement that by providing for New York’s long term clean energy future the company was demonstrating its “unwavering commitment” to its customers.
National Grid said it was hiring extra personnel to deal with the thousands who were denied service. The utility will also post on their website various programs and rebates available to businesses and homeowners hurt economically by the company’s measures.
These moves are to be paid out of shareholders’ pockets, not the ratepayers.