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Governor Raimondo meets with Aquidneck Island elected officials to discuss DPUC report and energy reliability



“What I know to be true, and what I feel firmly about, is that the ratepayers in Rhode Island will not and should not bear the costs for [National Grid and Enbridge’s] mistakes,” said Governor Gina Raimondo.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo met with General Assembly members representing Aquidneck Island and Newport Mayor Jaimie Bova to discuss the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) report on the week long shut down of gas service to Newport and Middletown on Aquidneck Island following a “low-pressure” event in January.

Raimondo met with Senators Louis DiPalma (Democrat, District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown) and James Seveney (Democrat, District 11, Bristol, Portsmouth) and Representatives Marvin Abney (Democrat, District 73, Newport), Terri-Denise Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth), Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol) and Deborah Ruggiero (Democrat, District 74, Jamestown) for about 45 minutes before speaking to reporters.

“What happen last year in Newport was unacceptable,” began Raimondo, “and National Grid bears some of the responsibility for that because they weren’t prepared. Enbridge also bears some of the responsibility for that because we now know that they misprogrammed a valve.

“What I know to be true, and what I feel firmly about, is that the ratepayers in Rhode Island will not and should not bear the costs for [National Grid and Enbridge’s] mistakes.”

Accurately reporting that the contributing factors to the week long disaster in January was due to a sudden temperature drop, a malfunction in National Grid’s Fields Point facility and Enbridge’s misprogrammed valve, Raimondo emphasized that this could happen again…

“The people of Rhode Island deserve affordable, reliable resilient energy and electricity,” said Raimondo.

Raimondo noted the need for legislation that will enable the DPUC to issue fines against National Grid.

“In Massachusetts the DPUC can fine National Grid, and I believe would fine National Grid in a circumstance like this. Same thing in New York. In Rhode Island, we’re not allowed to do that,” noted Raimondo. “That means that if there were the same emergency that happened in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the Grid trucks are going to Massachusetts, because they know they can be fined there…

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“The truth of it is, the Governor of Massachusetts has more tools in his toolbox to force Grid to do what they have to do.”

Raimondo submitted legislation to empower the DPUC last year, but it did not get out of the General Assembly. Representative Abney, who chairs House Finance, thinks that with the DPUC report, the chances of passing this legislation will go up in the 2020 session.

Representative Marvin Abney

“Cold temperatures – we need to be prepared for,” said Raimondo. “It’s going to happen again. Aging infrastructure exists. So I have directed the DPUC to work with National Grid to put a plan in place and begin to enact that plan to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Senator DiPalma said that what happened in January could “categorically happen again,” adding, “We need to look at this from a long term perspective, having a resilient and reliable gas and electricity transmission and distribution system.”

Senator Louis DiPalma

The DPUC report concludes that there was no capacity problem, that is, there was enough gas supply and pipeline capacity to get needed natural gas to Aquidneck Island. Yet the report also suggests an increase in the natural gas capacity by a factor of five, through the addition of a new 12 inch pipeline to run alongside the existing six inch pipeline. I asked Raimondo how this suggestion found its way into the report.

“Yeah. I don’t know,” said Raimondo. “And, I think Senator DiPalma said it, there’s the immediate issue, how we get through this winter, and then there are the longer term issues of capacity, infrastructure, affordability, resilience, and we have to get to the bottom before that.”

Acknowledging that the Governor is adamant that the costs to make the system safe and reliable not fall on ratepayers, I noted that I know of no pipelines installed anywhere that are not ultimately paid for by ratepayers.

“Yeah, fair enough,” replied Raimondo. “It’s premature for me to answer that, but that is exactly what we need to dig into.”

The Public’s Radio’s John Bender ask at what point are the law of diminishing returns kicks in on fossil fuel infrastructure investments, especially in light of climate change.

“That’s a better question for [National] Grid,” said Raimondo. “It’s my position that they should do whatever it takes so that the people of Rhode Island have affordable, reliable energy and electricity, even on the coldest day of the year.”

Here’s the entirety of the press conference:

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.