Hydroelectric power would become a more prominent piece of the state's energy puzzle under a proposal filed Thursday by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The bill submitted to the state Senate requires Massachusetts utilities to work with the Department of Energy Resources to pursue long-term contracts for bringing hydropower into the state.
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The governor called the measure a critical step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also helping ratepayers by providing a cost effective alternative to fossil fuels like coal and oil.
"Increasing the flow of hydroelectric power into Massachusetts and New England diversifies our energy portfolio and makes it clear we are ready to collaborate with our neighboring states to secure cost-effective, carbon-reducing energy solutions for the region," Baker said.
The bill would allow Massachusetts to collaborate with New England states including Connecticut and Rhode Island in the procurement of hydropower. The three states announced during a recent regional energy a joint effort to seek power purchase agreements for hydropower or other types of renewable energy.
Baker's legislation would allow renewable energy sources such as wind power from being included in contracts, provided those resources are supported by hydropower.
The administration said it's committed to achieving the greenhouse gas reduction targets spelled out under the state's 2007 Global Warming Solutions Act. The law, signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick, calls for a 25 percent reduction from 1990 emissions levels by 2020. Passage of Baker's hydropower bill was expected to achieve 5 percent of the reduction, equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the road, officials said.
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said without the addition of more hydropower, the state will fall short of the goals set in the 2007 law. He said one benefit of hydropower is it is reliable and consistent.
"With this piece of legislation, we are singularly and narrowly focused on meeting the goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act," he said. "If we do not get this, we will not get to that 25 percent by 2020."
Not everyone was thrilled with the proposal.
Greg Cunningham of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, said hydropower has its drawbacks.
"Hydropower needs to be a piece of the puzzle, but it must be added in a way that simultaneously protects our rivers and forests and incorporates alternate renewable energy solutions," Cunningham said in a statement.
Cunningham said the bill needs to guarantee that the tracking of any hydropower power sources "has real teeth and is verifiable, or else we could end up buying Canadian coal-powered electricity during periods of high demand in the Eastern Canadian provinces."
Beaton said he welcomes comments, but said the administration is focused on moving forward with the proposal.
"We don't want this to get bogged down," he said.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, chairman of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, applauded the move.
"We are happy to partner with our neighbors and coordinate ways to provide cheaper, cleaner and reliable energy for New England residents," Malloy said in a statement.