A downpayment on Somerset’s offshore wind dream
Prysmian plans $300m cable facility at Brayton Point
THE DREAM of transforming Brayton Point in Somerset into a hub of the offshore wind industry took a major step forward on Thursday, as an Italian manufacturer of subsea cable laid out an ambitious plan to build a $300 million facility capable of servicing wind farms off the East Coast of the United States and possibly England.
The Prysmian Group purchased 47 acres at Brayton Point and plans to hire roughly 250 people to operate the manufacturing plant. Hakan Ozmen, the head of energy projects for Prysmian, said the company also plans to build a new pier off the property for ships that will deliver the cable to wind farms.
Ozmen, addressing a crowd of dignitaries who gathered for the signing of the purchase agreement, including Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and other state and local officials, said it wasn’t easy convincing Prysmian officials to locate the plant in high-cost Massachusetts. But he said the experience the company has had with a much smaller plant it operates in Dighton and the access to universities in Massachusetts convinced him Brayton Point was the place to be. (It also didn’t hurt that Avangrid Renewables kickstarted Prysmian’s business by entering into contracts to use its cable for wind farms it is building in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Some of that cable will come from Brayton Pointy.)
He also said the Massachusetts location makes it feasible to service the East Coast market as well as England, an arrangement that should help the factory weather the highs and lows of the offshore wind business. “That was one of the ideas for being in the north, as opposed to being in the south,” Ozmen said.
The negotiations between Prysmian and Commercial Development Inc. of St. Louis, the owner of Brayton Point, were contentious. Commercial Development wanted to lease the land to Prysmian, but Prysmian insisted it needed to own the land before making such a large investment.
The final deal is a large downpayment on the dream Commercial Development sold to Somerset when it purchased the old Brayton Point coal-fired power plant, blew up its two cooling towers, and tore down many of the remaining structures. Commercial Development promised to replace the old power plant with businesses serving the offshore wind industry, but that dream got put on hold as the permitting process for Vineyeard Wind, the nation’s first industrial-scale wind farm, dragged on for several years.
In the meantime, Commercial Development leased space to a scrap metal export operation and a road salt business — two businesses that alienated the surrounding community because of the noise, dust, and truck traffic they generated. The town of Somerset and Commercial Development are fighting each other in court and the town’s Select Board is now dominated by opponents of the scrap metal operation.
The Prysmian facility will be located adjacent to the scrap metal business, which has its own dock. The scrap metal operation was in full swing on Thursday, with a large mound of scrap being loaded on to a tanker bound for Turkey.
Ozmen said he does not expect any problems with the community. He said raw materials will have to come into the facility by truck but the finished product of subsea cable will go out by boat.
“In Napoli, it is a historic city and we are in the center of Napoli with many neighborhoods attached to the facility and we never have issues,” Ozmen said, using the Italian name for Naples.
Somerset officials have appealed to Baker to shut down the scrap metal operation. They claim the operation is being run partly on state land and the state should step in and halt it.
Baker, spreaking to reporters after the land purchase was signed with Prysmian, said the state owns some of the property being used for the scrap metal operation but not all of it. He also said there are lease arrangements in place that prohibit the state from intervening. “We can’t do things that are against the law,” he said, adding that the state is working to deal with any problems thar arise from the scrap metal operation.
Kathleen Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said Commercial Development’s portion of the docking area at Brayton Point is on submerged tidelands owned by the state. But she said leases are in place to cover use of the dock area and the rest of the operation is not violating any laws.
“They’re within their rights,” Theoharides said, adding that her agency is working with the attorney general’s office to make sure the operation is compliant with all environmental laws. “If there are violations, we are following up on those,” she said.Brayton Point is 306 acres but only about 150 acres can be developed. Prysmian purchased 47 acres and Mayflower Wind has purchased another 10 for work it is doing to connect its proposed wind farm to the regional power grid. That leaves 93 acres still available, and officials say one other deal is currently in the works.
Theoharides said she hopes the emerging offshore wind industry will keep expanding at Brayton Point and make the tension between Somerset and Commercial Development disappear. “I really believe that this first piece of the offshore wind supply chain [the Prysmian facility] will open up the door to many more,” she said.