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Blackouts, Higher Costs a Proven Risk Without New Natural-Gas Pipelines

We can't allow political rhetoric intended to block safe, underground natural-gas infrastructure drive policy and decision making


Last month, in the wake of one of the longest sustained cold spells since 2014, the New England power grid operator revealed a startling finding.

In just six years, six states from Connecticut to Maine are at an 80 percent risk of being hit with rolling blackouts based on 23 of 24 different modeled scenarios, even assuming ramped up renewable investment that powers one-third of the grid.

The cause? Lack of natural gas infrastructure to move energy when it's needed most.

This is the future we can expect close to home if we allow political rhetoric around blocking safe, underground natural-gas infrastructure to drive policy and decision making, and overrule an objective and science-based approach to reliable energy.

Here in New Jersey, unfounded and baseless rhetoric around the PennEast Pipeline, as an example, are riddled with factual inaccuracies that have been debunked by credible scientists, energy experts, and government regulators.

99.99 percent safe

Any objective analysis shows natural gas pipelines are 99.99 percent safe (and newer technologies make them safer than ever) and necessary to deliver reliable energy, environmental protection, and economic growth.

Even before the New England power-grid report, the risks of blocking new pipelines played out with real consequences in early January. Air emissions increased dramatically, as more than 30 percent of the power grid relied not on clean natural gas for electricity, but fuel oil, just to keep on the lights.

Families and businesses got stuck with higher energy bills, when natural gas prices in New England hit world highs.

Worse, headlines in New England and Washington have screamed that the sourcing of backup LNG fuel — from a Russian gas facility with $12 billion in Chinese financing — was needed to heat homes in the Boston area instead of accessing readily available and more affordable American natural gas just a few hundred miles away.

In light of the region's reliance on Russian energy, the Boston Globe added, "the environmental movement needs a reset," calling the state's situation this winter a "severe indictment of inward looking environmental policies" and a "trendy, but scientifically unfounded national fixation on pipelines."

Critical to our collective future

The PennEast Pipeline, which is approved to deliver these low-cost, clean energy supplies from Pennsylvania through six towns in northwestern New Jersey for the benefit of the entire state, is critical to our collective future while avoiding the path of New England.

Despite often repeated misinformation that the project is environmentally hazardous and isn't necessary, three different government regulators — with different jurisdictions and oversights — have found the PennEast Pipeline to be safe for the environment.

The first determination affirming the PennEast Pipeline was safe came under the Obama administration, and Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection concurred by issuing a water-quality certification in February 2017.

Many have summarily dismissed the findings of a federal agency with approximately 1,500 regulators composed of scientists, attorneys, and other professionals who examined the PennEast project over three years to assess, listen, modify, and implement mitigation measures that ensure minimal impacts. Their professional determination was that the PennEast Pipeline is in the "public benefit," as well as safe for air, land, and water.

Regulators also debunked the conclusions of New Jersey's Rate Counsel, frequently cited by opposition groups to question the need for the pipeline, as unpersuasive, "unavailing," and "misplaced."

Perhaps the most compelling evidence supporting the need for the pipeline is the consistently higher prices in the gas-trading zones that include New Jersey. Those prices spike during cold spells, and did so in dramatic fashion during January's cold snap — 31 times higher than natural gas accessed by the PennEast Pipeline. Price spikes only occur as a result of the need for additional pipeline capacity.

New Jersey's own power-grid operator said the PennEast Pipeline would ensure reliable power in our homes and businesses. The most credible voices in New Jersey's business and labor community tout PennEast as necessary to keep our economy growing. Most important, the very companies we know and trust — like New Jersey Natural Gas, South Jersey Gas, Elizabethtown Gas, PSEG, and others — have purchased nearly all of the gas available to come through it.

Building critical infrastructure is always controversial. But most New Jerseyans would agree that lowering energy costs, creating thousands of jobs, and capitalizing on clean, reliable American energy, is a worthwhile cause to keep New Jersey moving forward. Don't let New Jersey become New England.

Michael Drulis is executive director of the New Jersey Society for Environmental, Economic Development.

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