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Why Cuomo’s victory over National Grid is a loss for you

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s threat to strip National Grid of its license did the trick last week, bending the natural gas utility to his will. But the gov’s “victory” doesn’t solve the root problem — a gas shortage that he created — and, worse, adds new risks to New York’s economic future.

Just days after Cuomo sent out a public letter threatening to evict the company from the state, National Grid agreed to end its ban on new service for Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn customers, at least for two years, and also to pay $36 million in penalties for imposing the ban. The deal also includes a gag order: The utility can’t say anything about its negotiations with Cuomo’s minions.

The gov is playing hero: “This agreement is a victory for customers,” he preened. “National Grid will pay a significant penalty for its failure to address” the shortage. Yet that problem is entirely of his making: He was the one to nix an underwater pipeline that could bring in new gas.

National Grid responded rationally: Absent the pipeline, it saw no way it would have the gas to serve more customers, so it suspended new hookups.That caused huge problems for residents and businesses. Long Island officials, including even fellow anti-gas Democrats, pleaded for Cuomo to reconsider. Instead, the gov went ballistic — accusing National Grid of blackmail: “We will not allow any business, big or small, to extort New Yorkers in order to advance its own interests,” he huffed. As if turning away new business advances a company’s interests.

Fact is, Cuomo should’ve been thrilled at the ban. After all, his real goal is to force New York off fossil fuel, or at least to appease the extremists who now oppose anything that increases supplies of such fuels. (He pretends the pipeline would threaten water quality, but another one runs nearby with no problems.)

Now the utility will have gas delivered by CO2-emitting trucks or ships if supplies run low. Trucks are also less reliable (think snowstorms blocking deliveries) and risk dangerous traffic accidents.

Plus, unless Cuomo relents and OKs the pipeline, locals still face shortages over the long term, as the area grows, oil customers switch to gas and demand increases.

National Grid is supposed to come up with options for beyond 2021, but alternative-energy sources (e.g., wind- or solar-generated electricity for heating) are more expensive than gas. They’re also dependent on the weather and unlikely to be available in sufficient quantities in time. Gas, routed by pipeline, will remain the best option.

Cuomo should level with the public: His war on gas (banning pipelines) comes with a cost. When that angers folks, the honest response would be to explain why the pain is a sacrifice they have to make to combat climate change — rather than scapegoating a utility.

Worse, the gov’s threats basically leave the supposedly independent Public Service Commission, which is meant to be a nonpolitical and non-ideological regulator of utilities across the state, exposed as jumping when Cuomo says “frog.” That’s going to force every company that even thinks about doing such business in New York to add a major “political risk” premium to its calculations.

In other words, firms willing to serve as utilities here will increasingly be ones that are happy to play political games — and pass the price on to ratepayers.

It also presages more official denial of basic reality. Already, the nonpartisan agency that runs the electric grid, the New York Independent System Operator, is under pressure to simply ignore the huge reliability issues that are intrinsic to wind and solar power. The extreme-green lobby doesn’t care if that guarantees blackouts down the road.

In short, Cuomo’s big win is a long-term loss for regular New Yorkers.

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