Rhode Island lawmakers want to study and evaluate the state’s natural gas and energy infrastructure in the wake of last month’s gas shut off. The state’s energy grid is a vast network of pipelines and transmission stations owned and operated by a variety of private companies, and regulated by both state and federal agencies.
The Newport gas shut off that left thousands without heat for a week raised a red flag for Newport Senator Dawn Euer. Euer said it appears the shut off was caused because of problems that occurred elsewhere on the grid.
“To have a resilient energy system, to me, would mean that 6500 properties aren’t dependent on their neighbors upstream,” Euer said.
The problem also raised questions about the capacity of the infrastructure to handle large demands during the cold winter months. Euer said the age of the pipeline systems has also worried constituents on Aquidneck Island.
“So there definitely is an age-of-infrastructure concern, and how that infrastructure is being maintained to make sure that we’re addressing these issues proactively, instead of reactively,” Euer said.
Euer is among the lawmakers calling for a panel to investigate the state of Rhode Island’s energy grid. A resolution introduced in the General Assembly seeks the creation of a twenty-two member panel of lawmakers and industry experts. The panel would include representatives from both National Grid and energy company Enbridge.
Both companies are currently being sued in two class action lawsuits for the shutoff, one filed by Newport businesses, another filed by city residents. The suits cite negligence in the circumstances surrounding the shut offs. Both companies have declined to speak about the suits, though National Grid spokespeople said the decision to shut off power was “out of an abundance of caution.”
“I would like know the ultimate cause of what happened,” Euer said. “I heard some conflicting information about what happened. Whether it was mechanical failure, there was other theories, that had been posited.”
The ultimate cause of the shut off is the subject of two separate investigations, one by Rhode Island’s Division of Public Utilities and another by the federal Department of Transportation.