Stopping natural gas in N.J. would threaten economy

New York was hit with a stark realization just weeks ago: When anti-pipeline rhetoric replaces facts in energy policy, the results can be devastating for neighborhoods, businesses and job-creating economic development. Worst of all, what is unfolding on Long Island and in Westchester County is entirely avoidable, providing a cautionary tale New Jersey must avoid as the siren song of stopping all natural gas projects begins to rear its head in the Garden State.

ConEd announced that, beginning March 15, it will not add any new natural gas utility customers in Westchester County because it cannot guarantee reliable service without new supply. That’s a frightening development.

National Grid added that it, too, could not provide reliable fuel to heat the pending $1 billion Belmont Park initiative on Long Island, threatening the major development of a new hockey arena, a hotel and retail spaces.

Mike Stiles, business manager, Pipefitters Local 274.

Bipartisan officials across the impacted communities are now sounding alarm bells about the “devastation” the lack of gas utility service means to their downtown redevelopment projects, new affordable housing and job-creating commercial projects. 

The Environmental Defense Fund even testified on Feb. 13 that opposing or preventing all pipeline expansion “is not an effective climate policy,” because insufficient pipeline capacity is “causing adverse environmental impacts.”

Massachusetts is in a similar position. Politicians gave false comfort in a now-debunked 2015 report that recommended, like some in New Jersey do today, that no new natural gas pipelines were needed. Just two years later, not only did the state run out of natural gas in the dead of winter, it imported Russian fuel to save residents from weeks-long cold. The ripple effects continued in February as Holyoke Gas announced it, too, was forced to stop new natural gas hookups to residents and businesses without new energy supplies.

The problems in New York and Massachusetts took root years ago with political stunts and regulatory delays to deny new natural gas pipelines, causing the problems we see in those states today. There’s no easy solution in sight, unless pending projects are fast-tracked — particularly for next winter.

New Jersey’s future will look the same should policymakers hastily ban new gas pipeline construction or seek to delay projects that are critical to advancing our own energy security and economic growth. Imagine the ripple effect: a major pharmaceutical or manufacturing company being turned away because a utility company couldn’t guarantee it reliable energy, or an end to providing new customers with the low-cost natural gas they expect.

New Jersey is already a model when it comes to clean power. Marked emission reductions have been achieved because of responsible state leadership to advance natural gas investments, both for electricity generation and home heating needs. In fact, over 90 percent of the state’s electricity is provided by carbon-free nuclear power and clean, low-emission natural gas. Three out of four New Jersey customers already heat their homes with natural gas, too.

Ernest Moniz, President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary and an MIT physicist, has not only called natural gas a common-sense bridge to a low-carbon future, but that extreme renewable-only mandates like those contained in the recently announced Green New Deal are “impracticable unrealizable objectives.” 

Here in New Jersey, our clean and efficient power sector accounts for just 16 percent of carbon emissions, yet our cars and trucks emit three times that amount. Addressing our transportation sector is the best opportunity for our state to advance our climate goals. 

Most important, natural gas is a critical energy resource that is lowering bills. Public Service Electric & Gas, for example, has said a typical customer’s bill is $844 per year lower than in 2008. This is a victory in particular for the state’s seniors on fixed incomes and the working poor — as well as our ability to attract and keep businesses.

Natural gas is an indispensable part of New Jersey’s energy mix, and has earned its place in a low-carbon, cleaner energy future by providing reliable and affordable heat, electricity and fuel. Stopping new natural gas supplies through a short-sighted moratorium will only take us backward in getting to our shared clean energy goals, while jeopardizing our economy and threatening higher bills. 

Mike Stiles is the business manager at Pipefitters Local 274.