It was four years ago when the gas stopped flowing to thousands of Newport and Middletown households and businesses. The frigid temperatures forced many families to flee the island, pipes burst and local officials were searching for answers.

It didn’t take long for officials to place blame on a system failure, rather than extraordinary cold temperatures or increased usage, as National Grid and Algonquin Gas Transmission suggested.

The apparent solution is “temporary,” expansion of a facility on Old Mill Lane in Portsmouth. Is it enough to prevent another gas crisis?

We asked area legislators what they thought. We didn’t hear from all area legislators – Rep. Marvin Abney, D-Middletown, Newport, and Senators Dawn Euer, D-Newport, Jamestown, and Sen. Walter Flag, D-Tiverton, Bristol, Warren didn’t respond.

We heard, however, from several others. Here’s what they said:

Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport: What can be done to assure Newport residents that there will not be a repeat of the 2019 gas crisis? 

That is a question that has a complicated answer.  Aquidneck Island, Newport in particular, is at the end of the natural gas pipeline coming from Massachusetts. In the meantime, Rhode Island is on a climate plan to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. And don’t forget – that crisis was caused by a pipeline issue which highlighted for Aquidneck Island how vulnerable our transmission and gas supply are. 

The members of the Aquidneck Island Legislature are in communication with RI Energy and they have assured us that the temporary site on Old Mill Lane can keep us secure for the immediate future.

But we must continue to create state and local policies to transition Rhode Islanders to solar, wind and heat pumps and we need to discourage future gas hookups in new public and private construction in the years ahead.  I know this sounds new – but right now there are many tax incentives being provided by the Federal and State governments to make it more financially reasonable to transition to heat pumps and rooftop solar. This is one website that can get folks started on researching this tax incentives available in 2023:

Rep. Michelle McGaw, D-Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton: “In regards to the natural gas outage that caused such turmoil in Newport, while there have been safeguards put into place, I don’t believe that we can ever be assured that something like this could not happen again. The expansion of the facility on Old Mill Lane in Portsmouth is a temporary solution. 

The best opportunity to be sure is that we are not impacted so dramatically by disruptions in the supply of natural gas is to reduce our dependence on this fossil fuel, transitioning to alternative clean energy sources. There are state and federal tax credits and rebates available for alternative options such as electric heat pumps  and electric heat pump water heaters. There are zero-interest loans available for up to $25,000 for approved heat pump systems that are replacing electric, oil or propane heating systems. The RI Office of Energy Resources website provides more detailed information regarding incentives and opportunities that are available to help reduce our dependence on natural gas to minimize the potential impacts of any future gas outages. While temporary measures are in place, a transition away from fossil fuels provides the greatest safety net against potential future gas outages.”

Sen. Linda Ujifusa, D-Portsmouth, Bristol: “I am disappointed that keeping the Old Mill Lane LGN facility apparently remains the primary ‘solution’ to the capacity issue. I am hopeful that going forward, PPL (who bought National Grid) will continue to work with municipal officials and abutters to actively address safety, noise and light and quality of life issues. I know that Portsmouth has intervened in the EFSB hearings and will closely monitor the proceedings to advocate for the protection of our citizens. From a broader perspective, however, policymakers must seek to move towards more energy efficient buildings and affordable, sustainable sources of power.”

Rep. Terri-Denise Cortvriend, D-Middletown, Portsmouth: “I do believe that the installation of the seasonal ‘temporary’ LNG setup at the Old Mill Lane take station does offer island residents, protection against having another crisis like we did in early 2019. I do think that all residents of Aquidneck Island owe those who live in close proximity to the Old Mill station a debt of gratitude. Those folks now have to deal with infrastructure that they did not anticipate and most of us would not choose to have in our backyard. I wish we could have found another location fr the installation, but I am glad it is a temporary set up. I also hope that as we move away from a reliance on fossil fuels for heating that the station will someday becme unnecessary,”

Sen. Lou DiPalma, D –Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton: While I believe many of the symptoms which manifested themselves have/are being addressed, especially with the modifications made and planned for the Old Mill Lane facility, I have not seen the facts/data that the root cause of the problem has been corrected. And, as a result, I cannot assure my constituents that the situation won’t be repeated. Additional vigilance and oversight is warranted …

Rep. Alex Finkelman, D-Jamestown, Middletown. “I look forward to learning more abut the steps being taken to prevent the gas issues from occurring again. I believe it to be a complex issue and hope it continues to be a priority for all parties involved.”

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal....