Andrew Cuomo National Grid, “reckless disregard”

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Andrew Cuomo National Grid, “reckless disregard”.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ignited the natural gas issue with National Grid on Tuesday, threatening to revoke the utility’s downstate operating license due to its “reckless disregard” for its customers.

Cuomo has been at odds with the utility ever since it made good in May on its promise to halt new natural-gas hookups if a critical pipeline, the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, did not get the go-ahead.

The Williams Transco project is still pending, but has been denied key environmental permits by both New York and New Jersey.

National Grid has maintained that its gas capacity is maxed out and it could not guarantee uninterrupted service to existing customers if construction on the pipeline was blocked or delayed.

Critics of the power company, including elected officials and environmental advocates, have argued that National Grid was essentially using its customers as hostages in an extortion attempt to get the pipeline built, and never seriously investigated energy alternatives.

Cuomo has taken the same position.

Noting that the utility is legally obligated to provide “adequate and reliable service” and operate in “the public interest,” Cuomo charges in the letter that the British-owned corporation operated with “reckless disregard” for its obligations. He gives the company 14 days to advise him of “considerations” he has overlooked or “present meaningful and immediate remedial actions.”

The warning is part of the escalation in recent weeks in the governor’s response to National Grid’s moves, which have included denying service to thousands of business owners, residents and builders in Brooklyn, Queens and on Long Island that had been counting on natural-gas connections.

Last month, under orders from the Public Service Commission, National Grid began supplying natural gas to nearly 1,000 customers that had earlier discontinued their accounts and had been denied re-connection under the moratorium.

On October 24, Cuomo sent an angry letter to the head of the Public Service Commission, the state agency that guides energy policy, asking for an explanation of “potential grounds for revocation” of the utility’s license.

In Tuesday’s letter, addressed to National Grid’s global CEO John Pettigrew and its New York president John Bruckner, Cuomo accuses the company of being either “grossly negligent” in relying exclusively on the pipeline for its future energy needs, or of deliberately defrauding the state by not pursuing other options.

“National Grid has made clear that its only plan for future energy supply was based on a single, speculative project,” Cuomo writes. “The plan to build such a pipeline was risky at best.”

The governor’s critics have pointed out that he should have known how risky: It was the Public Service Commission, which Cuomo effectively controls, that blocked the pipeline.

His defenders see the governor making a stand for the state’s environmental goals, and using the state’s leverage to push National Grid toward new policies.

“National Grid is in receipt of the letter from Governor Cuomo and will review and respond accordingly within the timeframe outlined in the letter,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “We continue to work with all parties on these critical natural gas supply issues on behalf of all our customers in downstate New York.”

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