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Legislation that could make hydro and wind power a bigger part of the state's overall energy mix has passed the Massachusetts House.
The bill approved Wednesday would require utilities to solicit long-term contracts for importing an additional 1,200 megawatts each of Canadian hydroelectricity and offshore wind.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic legislative leaders have called the measure one of the most important among those still pending before lawmakers as the two-year session winds down in the coming weeks.
Some environmental activists say the House bill doesn't go far enough in promoting renewable energy.
Baker filed his own version of the bill last summer and has repeatedly called it one of his most important priorities of the legislative session that ends on July 31.
He said the measure is a critical step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and replacing energy that has left or will be leaving the New England energy grid in the coming years, including the scheduled 2019 shutdown of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.
Environmental League of Massachusetts President George Bachrach is among those activists calling for more a more robust effort to boost renewable energy production in the state.
Bachrach said the House bill takes "a small step forward to bring online our massive offshore wind energy resources" but said the state and nation is slipping behind other parts of the world.
"When Boston hosts the US-China Climate Summit in 2017, we need to do more than show up," Bachrach said. "While China leads the world by investing heavily in clean energy, particularly off-shore wind, the U.S. has yet to build its first off-shore wind farm."
Rep. Antonio Cabral said the promise of a home-grown renewable energy industry echoes a much earlier era when Massachusetts was an international energy powerhouse.
"Nantucket and New Bedford together produced much of the world's whale oil, which was the primary source of lighting in most advanced economies around the world at the time," the New Bedford Democrat said.
Cabral said the whale oil industry - immortalized in books like Moby Dick - didn't just benefit sailors and ship owners, but created ancillary businesses from candle makers and rope manufacturing to research on harpoon design and insurance for ships, which helped to elevate Boston as one of the nation's top financial hubs.
Cabral said he sees parallels in the 21st century for coastal communities like New Bedford in the push to develop offshore wind projects and the new businesses that could grow up around the industry to help support it.
"Someday soon energy firms will fly to Massachusetts rather than Houston, Texas, for energy expertise," Cabral said.
The bill now heads to the Senate.
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