A PROPOSED TRANSMISSION cable manufacturing plant in Somerset to serve the US offshore wind industry cleared a major hurdle on Thursday when the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to revise one of the conditions that had become a sticking point with the company.
The board in mid-September voted unanimously to require Prysmian to only use vessels capable of running on electricity when in port picking up cable. The shore-to-ship electricity condition was designed to prevent vessels from pulling into Brayton Point, the site of the proposed factory, and running their dirty diesel engines during the lengthy loading process, which can require the ship to operate 24 hours a day for 10 to 14 days.
Prysmian had already agreed to electrify its own fleet, a rare occurrence in the industry, but it wanted some leeway to bring in replacement ships if its own vessels required maintenance or were delayed at sea. The company said it couldn’t guarantee that these replacement ships would be able to operate on shore-to-ship power.
After the initial zoning board vote against Prysmian, the company promised to use at most only one replacement ship a year until 2041, when all ships would be required to run on electricity when loading. Federal, state, and local officials urged the zoning board to reconsider its earlier vote, pointing to the many benefits of the $250 million plant, including its 300 jobs and its nearly $9 million in annual tax revenue.
After a hearing on Thursday that dragged on for 5 ½ hours, the zoning board changed course, accepting Prysmian’s pledge to use only one non-Prysmian vessel a year. The board also attached a number of other conditions, requiring Prysmian to give the town money to hire an outside expert to verify that any emissions from a non-Prysmian ship do not exceed levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency. If an EPA violation is discovered, or if fumes and noise from the facility seep into the neighborhood bordering Brayton Point in violation of a town bylaw, the board said the cable loading process would be halted immediately and the company’s right to bring in a non-Prysmian ship in the future would be forfeited.
Prysmian’s plant, which wouldn’t start producing transmission cable until 2027, still requires some additional town approvals. Neighbors of Brayton Point also indicated at Thursday night’s hearing that they will likely go to court to block construction of the facility. One neighbor, Patrick McDonald, was joined at the hearing by his attorney.
Several Brayton Point neighbors also said without offering any proof that Joseph Fingliss, a zoning board member who had been one of their biggest champions, resigned from the board after voting against reconsideration because he was pressured to do so.
The neighborhood adjacent to Brayton Point for years has put up with soot from one of the largest coal-fired plants in New England. After that facility was torn down in 2017, the neighbors had to contend with dust and noise from a sheet metal export company before shutting that business down through the courts.
The neighbors told the zoning board that they shouldn’t have to put up with diesel fumes from a ship even if it is only once a year. As if to underscore their concerns, the redeveloper of Brayton Point, a company called Commercial Development Corp., allowed a diesel-powered ship to dock Tuesday night for reasons that were unclear. Neighborhood residents said the diesel fumes were overpowering, and a harbinger of what’s to come with Prysmian.
Alberto Boffelli, the chief operating officer at Prysmian, said the ship in port was nothing like the ships that Prysmian operates or the ships it would hire if that became necessary. Throughout the hearing, in response to questions from residents, he patiently explained the company’s business practices, noting that bringing in a replacement ship would only be done as a last resort. He said the alternative, if no ship was available, would mean the plant would have to be shut down until the cable was loaded and removed.
Neighbors of Brayton Point were openly skeptical of his claim, asking what would happen if Prysmian needed a replacement ship more than once in a year. They questioned how a company with more than $16 billion in revenue couldn’t just expand its fleet of ships capable of running on electricity when in port.
Nicole McDonald, another Brayton Point neighbor, asked the Prysmian team whether they would want their families and children to be exposed to the diesel fumes from the one replacement ship allowed each year. She noted the exposure could last as long as 336 hours if the ship loaded cable for two weeks.
Boffelli walked to the microphone and said: “I drive electric. I don’t drive diesel.”
Steven Cadorette, the chair of the zoning board, voted in mid-September for the original condition, saying he could live with it being a Prysmian deal breaker. He said on Thursday that he changed his mind after learning that some of the information the board relied on in its original vote was inaccurate. He credited Rebecca Tepper, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, for pointing out that Prysmian passed environmental muster with the state with a plan that at the time called for the use of all-diesel ships.
Kathy Souza, who helped lead the fight against the scrap metal export business at Brayton Point, said she will do the same with Prysmian if she smells diesel fumes. “If I smell it or I see it, I’ll see everybody in court,” she said.