A Consolidated Edison Inc. cone marks off a work area in lower Manhattan in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

As Westchester Clamors for Gas, ConEd Wants Others to Cut Back 

(Bloomberg) -- One of New York’s wealthiest areas could see property development grind to a halt if Consolidated Edison Inc. moves ahead with a threatened moratorium on new natural gas service.

Westchester County, just north of Manhattan, projects that the construction of 16,000 homes could be suspended if the utility moves ahead with plans to stop accepting new applications for service on March 15 because of a supply crunch. Another 2 million square feet (190,000 square meters) of retail and commercial space could be affected, according to a preliminary economic analysis.

One of the most affluent parts of New York -- where almost 1 million residents have a median household income of $90,000 -- the fast-growing area is hungry for gas. ConEd has come up with a conservation plan that includes getting low- to moderate-income customers and others to cut back. Meanwhile, county officials are seeking ways to postpone or avert the moratorium, which threatens to slow a regional transition from heating oil to cleaner-burning gas.

“We can’t afford for development in this county to come to a dead stop,” County Executive George Latimer said in an interview Friday. “If it’s imposed, no matter how long it is, it will have chilling effect on people looking at developing.”

Many property developers aren’t waiting. The utility received about 420 applications for gas service in the targeted area in the three weeks after the moratorium was announced in January, more than double the normal number, Allan Drury, a ConEd spokesman, said in an email.

Gas supplies are tight because of rising demand and constraints to pipelines entering ConEd’s service area, the utility said as early as last year. Demand is surging as local governments phase out high-polluting fuel oil units amid low gas prices and as ConEd customers rush to gas to save money. It will cost an average $752 to heat a home in the U.S. Northeast with gas this winter compared with $1,520 for heating oil, according to the U.S. Energy Administration Administration.

As Westchester Clamors for Gas, ConEd Wants Others to Cut Back 

ConEd’s moratorium on new gas service “is a direct result of the state’s continued blockade on natural gas infrastructure,” Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman for New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, said in a statement. “If this trend continues, New Yorkers will be left vulnerable and without reliable, affordable heat. Winter isn’t coming; winter is here.”

The $233 million ConEd program is designed to lower gas demand through energy-efficiency measures and the deployment of ground-source heat pump technology to “maintain reliability for existing customers,” according to a statement Thursday from the regulator, the New York Public Service Commission. They would also cut costs for consumers.

The commission called on ConEd to “urgently” find and develop clean-energy solutions to ensure system reliability. Regulators will hold a public hearing on the utility’s decision to temporarily suspend new gas service Feb. 13 in Westchester County.

ConEd is “using innovative ways to meet our customers’ heating and cooking needs,’’ Drury said. “We will continue to work with our customers to help them find clean energy alternatives.’’

Westchester County borders New York City to the south, Fairfield County, Connecticut, to the east and both the Long Island Sound and the Hudson River. Roadways, bridges and mass transportation have seen much of the county become nearly as densely developed as New York City.

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