Williams-Transco NESE Project, Including Gas Compressor, May Have Second Life

Opponents of the Transco gas compressor station rally at the municipal complex in 2016. (File photo).

Less than a year after its opponents were celebrating its demise, the controversial Williams-Transco Northeast Services Enhancement Project to increase its natural gas pipeline infrastructure has reared its head.

Transco on March 19 applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a two-year extension on FERC’s approval of the $1 billion project, which is set to expire on May 3. The company also stated its intent to re-file permit applications with the state Department of Environmental Protection, applications which were denied as “moot” by teh DEP in 2020, following their denial by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The Project continues to be required by the public convenience and necessity for the reasons set forth in the (FERC approval), and postponement of the in-service date for the Project will have no impact on the public interest findings underlying such order,” Transco’s Stephen Hatridge wrote in the letter to FERC. “And, as stated above, the environmental record remains current and relevant. Transco remains committed to constructing this important energy infrastructure and placing the Project into service as soon as possible. Moreover, no party would be harmed by a two-year extension of the deadline for completion of construction of the project.”

The project involves laying new natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, whose residents would benefit from the enhanced capacity.

The project also entails building a 32,000-horsepower natural-gas powered twin turbine compressor station – which would raise the gas pressure in pipelines so the gas can make it to its final destination – on a 52-acre tract in Little Rocky Hill, near Route 518.

Township residents and elected officials rallied to oppose the project, and joined with grassroots groups in other towns to leverage their lobbying power.

On May 15, 2020, the state DEP denied a series of Transco applications that would have allowed for the pipeline construction and the construction of the gas compressor station.

In denying the permits, the DEP cited the denials earlier that day of permits by the NYSDCP, reasoning that the New Jersey applications were thusly rendered moot.

In its 2021 letter, Transco pointed out that FERC had awarded the project a “certificate of public convenience and necessity,” which was followed by the permit application denials by New Jersey and New York environmental officials.

Transco argues that all of the criteria in effect when FERC approved the concept remains so, and that once the COVID-19 pandemic – which Transco blames for a perceived reduced need on the part of New York regulators for the extra capacity the project would provide – has subsided, the need for the NESE enhancements would once again be evident.

“The market disruption caused by COVID-19 is clearly temporary, and the Project will be essential to meeting National Grid’s needs once New York City returns to a more normal state of business and affairs,” the letter states.

Township Councilman Ted Chase, one of the leaders in the fight against the gas compressor, said the claimed reduced need wasn’t the only reason New York regulators denied the permit application.

“That rationale underlies their denial of approval, and Transco’s appeal for an extension, even though NY DEC’s denial was on its surface based on technical questions about the trenching in NY state waters,” Chase wrote in an email. “Those reasons, and NJ DEP’s denial based in part on lack of an assured access road, remain in any case.”

Transco also intends to refile the environmental permit applications in New York and New Jersey later this year, according to the letter.

Transco also argued that the project will help in the event of a catastrophic failure of utilities, as seen recently in Texas.

“The importance of adequate and reliable energy supply was made abundantly clear during the recent Winter Storm Uri, which highlighted the impact that extreme weather conditions can have on the electric grid and the critical role that natural gas plays both for residential heating and powering electric generation plants during periods of peak winter demand,” the letter said. “Through the addition of a new compressor station in New Jersey and looping of Transco’s Lower New York Bay Lateral, the Project will immediately improve the resiliency and reliability of gas service to residential and commercial loads in New York City, including during peak demand days.”

“Transco has expended substantial time, effort, and financial resources to obtain the certificate of public convenience and necessity for the Project and the other necessary approvals and permits needed to enable construction to commence on the Project,” the letter states. “The record before the Commission reflects no bad faith or delay on Transco’s behalf, but rather forward-looking, reasonable efforts to move the Project forward in the context of this unprecedented and unforeseeable COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the Commission should find that good cause exists to grant a two-year extension of time to complete construction of the Project.”

There is a 15-day comment period to FERC on Transco’s request. Comments must be received by FERC by 5 p.m. on April 6.

“The Commission strongly encourages electronic filings of comments, protests and interventions in lieu of paper using the “eFile” link at http://www.ferc.gov,” FERC said in an announcement about the comment period. “Persons unable to file electronically may mail similar pleadings to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  To mail via USPS, use the following address:  Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE, Washington, DC  20426.  To mail via any other courier, use the following address:  Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 12225 Wilkins Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20852.”

Editor’s Note: We are still gathering reactions from interested parties and will add those as soon as we receive them.

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