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Former coal power site to host offshore wind cable plant

The two cooling towers of the former Brayton Point Station in Somerset during demolition. The plant had burned coal since 1963. (Benjamin Lescault/Grace Barker Health via AP)
The two cooling towers of the former Brayton Point Station in Somerset during demolition. The plant had burned coal since 1963. (Benjamin Lescault/Grace Barker Health via AP)

Though not a single turbine has been built yet, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that he sees signs that offshore wind is catching on in Massachusetts thanks to the last six years of work and investment, and predicted that the industry is on a strong footing to grow here.

"I do think in some respects the industry has bought in to the opportunities associated with wind; the investments that are being made, the enthusiasm that's being demonstrated, the capital that's being committed," Baker said Thursday. "And I think if we continue to play our cards well, we can make a very big investment in the commonwealth and in this region going forward and support a lot of activity in deep water up and down the Atlantic coast."

The governor's comment came as he and some of his top deputies joined lawmakers from southeastern Massachusetts and officials from Vineyard Wind's parent company Avangrid to celebrate plans to establish the state's first offshore wind industry manufacturing facility at Brayton Point in Somerset.

The event highlighted the latest example of the buy-in Baker mentioned and served as a physical representation of the shift states are trying to make from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives like wind power: Prysmian Group's subsea transmission cable manufacturing plant will be built on land that until about five years ago hosted a coal-burning power plant. The manufacturing facility will come about as a result of the selection of Vineyard Wind's Commonwealth Wind project to generate 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind power for Massachusetts.

"I do want to say to Prysmian and Avangrid how much we appreciate your role in all of this and your fortitude, and your patience, and your determination, and your perseverance, and your discipline, and your commitment to what is a very significant long-term opportunity to take what was once an energy generator in a different era and take it into the next century and make it an energy generator for the next century as we go forward from here today," Baker said.

The 1,505-megawatt Brayton Point facility that ceased operations in 2017 was the last power plant run on coal in Massachusetts and the largest coal-fired power plant in New England, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It went into service in 1963.

Prysmian Group, an Italian company that lists more than 25 European offshore wind projects as part of its portfolio on its website, already manufactures underwater cables in Arco Felice, Italy, and Pikkala, Finland, and the Somerset facility marks its first major foray into the American market as U.S. states grow their appetites for offshore wind power.

The company has done some work already in Dighton.

Prysmian Group's relationship with Vineyard Wind extends beyond the subsea cable manufacturing facility tied to the Commonwealth Wind project. The company has a $300 million contract to connect the developer's 804 MW Park City offshore wind farm to the grid in Connecticut by 2026. Those cables will be manufactured in Italy and Finland, the company said.

For the Commonwealth Wind project, Prysmian will "design, supply, install, and commission as many as three export submarine power cable links" to deliver the project's power to Massachusetts, a $580 million project. Those cables are expected to come from the new Somerset facility, Italy and Finland. The cables will be installed by the Leonardo da Vinci and Ulisse vessels.

Vineyard Wind parent company Avangrid said its 1,200 MW Commonwealth Wind project, selected by Massachusetts utilities in December as part of the third wave of offshore projects for the Bay State, "will create 11,000 full time equivalent jobs over the project's lifetime and generate enough energy to power 750,000 homes annually." The Commonwealth Wind bid also included a public-private partnership with the city of Salem and Crowley Maritime Corporation to establish Salem Harbor as the state's second major offshore wind port.

And Brayton Point's place in the offshore wind world also extends beyond Vineyard Wind projects. The Shell and Ocean Winds North America joint venture behind the Mayflower Wind project announced an agreement last year with Anbaric Development Partners for Mayflower to use Anbaric-developed transmission assets to connect the wind-generated electricity to the regional grid at Brayton Point as a supplement to a Cape Cod landing.

Many who spoke at Thursday's event feted Somerset Rep. Patricia Haddad, a major offshore wind booster on Beacon Hill who made her own transition — from being the "Queen of Coal" to being the "Witch of Wind" — as her town began to transition from being dominated by its coal power plants.

Prysmian Group Senior Vice President Hakan Ozmen credited Haddad for helping to get the deal to secure Prysmian Group's place in Somerset over the goal line.

"When we were having trouble with the deal, she gave us motivation and support and she insisted," he said. "And when she insisted, we insisted. I have to say, I thank you very much for that."

Haddad recounted how she set out to craft offshore wind policy in 2014 when Somerset learned the coal plant that was its largest taxpayer would be shutting down and at a time when the leading offshore wind proposal — the Cape Wind project — was shedding support as it faded from relevance. She said former Gov. Deval Patrick "didn't want to hear anything about this" but found Gov. Charlie Baker to be an enthusiastic partner.

"My sincerest gratitude to the citizens of Somerset and especially the Brayton Point neighborhood," she said. "The last several years have been extremely challenging and it's my hope that this is the beginning of real change for our community."

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