Protesters storm Nat Grid lobby downtown calling for public power

national grid protest
Protesters occupy National Grid’s Jay Street office lobby during an Oct. 22 protest.
Lisette DeJesus

Environmentalists stormed the headquarters of National Grid in Downtown Brooklyn Thursday calling for state ownership over the local power grid — marking the latest in a series of protests in response to the company’s controversial fracked-gas pipeline beneath the borough.

“We absolutely cannot afford to have corporate utilities like National Grid running our energy system, because when they’re in charge, all they do is raise our rates. And when they’re in charge, they put a fracked-gas pipeline through north Brooklyn without community consent,” said Lee Ziesche of the environmentalist group Sane Energy Project at the Oct. 22 demonstration.

After demonstrating outside the company’s MetroTech offices, around two dozen people flocked inside the lobby at Jay Street around 10:30 am, chanting and banging drums in protest.

The protest comes after several anti-fracking protesters were arrested for chaining themselves to construction sites of National Grid’s pipeline at the corner of Manhattan and Montrose in Williamsburg on Oct. 15, with the activists slamming the expansion of new fossil-fuel infrastructure — arguing instead for investments in non-carbon producing energy sources. 

The following day, more activists defied the heavy rain and broke into another site around the corner on Montrose Avenue near Leonard Street, before police arrived and collared them.

On Oct. 19, a cadre of local politicos joined the activists at the pipeline construction site to call for legislation that would prevent new investments in fossil fuels.

Thursday’s demonstration marked a return to the gas company’s headquarters, where the fired-up dissidents reiterated their frustration with the new pipeline. 

“The expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure during a climate crisis anywhere on planet earth is an act of violence is an act of violence against all life on earth,” said Benny Woodard, whom police arrested for locking himself to the pipe last week. “We do not consent. National Grid, get your pipeline out of our neighborhoods.”

Benny Woodard protests outside National Grid’s Downtown Brooklyn headquarters on Oct. 22.Photo by Kevin Duggan

National Grid started construction on the pipe — officially dubbed the Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project — back in 2017 with the sign-off from the state, tearing up the streets along its seven-mile route beginning in Brownsville, and continuing through Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, and East Williamsburg, before its final destination which will connect to the company’s Maspeth Avenue depot at Newtown Creek sometime in 2021.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to show strong support for the idea, calls to bring utility companies like National Grid to public ownership has some support in the Albany legislature — including from Park Slope Assemblyman Robert Carroll, who last year introduced a trio of bills that would take large steps toward turning the energy grid into a government-run entity, which they would then steer toward more environmentally-friendly sources.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams made similar demands in early August after storm Isaias left more than 8,000 Brooklynites without power, releasing a detailed report on how the state could put the private firms under the helm of the state’s existing utility company, the New York Power Authority.

National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said in a statement that company officials are well able to run the borough’s grid, claiming the utility plans to pivot to cleaner energy. 

“We have confidence in running our energy system to ensure safe and reliable service for our customers. This expertise is especially important as we continue to transition to a cleaner energy future,” Young said. 

Gov. Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.