Updated 12:58 am, Tuesday, June 24, 2014
WASHINGTON -- When people hear "renewable energy," they're not generally thinking about the 18th century.
Meet renewable energy, New England style.
The House gave final passage Monday to a bill to enable the Connecticut town of Canton to refurbish two dams on the Farmington River -- one of them first built as a grist mill in the late 1700s, the other in 1837 to power machinery for the Collins Co., a maker of axes that has been defunct since the 1960s.
The "renewed" dams and powerhouses are expected to produce enough renewable electricity to serve more than 1,500 local homes.
The bill, which is expected to be signed in the next 10 days by President Barack Obama, is a "first" for both U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty and Sen. Chris Murphy, both Democrats from Cheshire.
It was the first bill introduced by Esty as a congresswoman, and will be the first to become law. Similarly, it will be the first bill introduced by Murphy as a senator to become law.
Murphy, who preceded Esty in representing Connecticut's 5th Congressional District, had managed to steer the bill through the House twice, only to see it fail in the Senate.
This time, after Esty managed it through the House, Murphy was there to introduce and help shepherd the measure through the upper chamber. The result is a rarity: To date, the 113th Congress has passed only 121 measures that have been signed into law.
"These two dams are already a beloved and long-standing symbol of the Farmington Valley's rich history," Murphy said. "With today's passage, we can make them a symbol of the valley's future as well."
He said he was "incredibly proud" to champion the bill with Esty, adding that it "is incredibly important for Canton and for Connecticut."
"I'm proud that our bill supporting clean, locally produced energy passed today and is now heading to President Obama's desk to be signed into law," Esty said. "Our bill will help our communities move one step closer toward a clean-energy future."
She thanked Murphy and Canton First Selectman Dick Barlow for their long commitment to the issue.
Barlow also made the point that the restored dams would include fish ladders to accommodate migrating fish. The environmental quality of the river has been significantly restored in recent years.