Governor Charlie Baker wants to step up imports of renewable energy into Massachusetts and plans to file legislation Thursday that could help bring up to 2,400 megawatts of hydropower into the state from Canada.
Matthew Beaton, Baker's energy and environmental affairs secretary, said Massachusetts needs more electricity from a nonfossil-fuel sources such as hydropower if it is to meet a 2020 deadline for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The additional hydropower would also provide a reliable source of electricity at a time when several older power plants in New England have closed.
"A lot of the other renewable solutions we have aren't as consistent," Beaton said. "The sun's not always shining. The wind's not always blowing."
Baker's bill would require major electric utilities to seek long-term contracts from hydropower generators — most likely Canadian companies such as Hydro-Quebec and Nalcor Energy.
There are several big power line projects proposed to tap Canadian hydropower and address transmission constraints in northern New England. Officials in the Baker administration said the legislation, if passed, could help get one or two of those projects off the ground.
The utilities would be required to enter into contracts for about 1,200 megawatts, although a portion could come from renewable sources such as wind farms as long as hydropower is used as a backup.
The total amount of energy procured would be capped at 2,400 megawatts.
Deval Patrick tried a similar plan to import more hydropower from Canada when he was governor but failed to get the Legislature to act before its session ended last summer.
Lawmakers have introduced a similar bill for the current session.
Janet Gail Besser of the New England Clean Energy Council said the fact that Baker's bill would allow wind farms in northern New England to be included in utility purchases could help make the cost of a power line more manageable by spreading the expense over multiple customers.
But the Conservation Law Foundation and RENEW Northeast, an environmental group that promotes renewable energy, sounded notes of caution about the bill.
"We would like to see something more balanced . . . as opposed to a lopsided subsidy for Canadian hydro," said Francis Pullaro, executive director at RENEW Northeast.