Massachusetts attracted the pilgrims in the 1600s. Now it wants to attract settlers of a different sort: wind energy producers.

The state's Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday called for developing 2 gigawatts of wind power by 2020. That would be enough to light up 800,000 homes and account for 10 percent of the state's electricity needs. 

Patrick cited the energy bill passed by the state Legislature last year that sets renewable energy mandates and promises to set aside money to fund efforts to generate renewable power and conserve energy (see Massachusetts Passes Sweeping Energy Bill).

The law, called the Green Communities Act, requires utilities to buy 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and 25 percent by 2030. That doubles the rate of increase from 0.5 percent per year to 1 percent per year.

The Green Communities Act also removes restrictions that previously prohibited utilities from owning solar projects and from leasing them to customers. The new law also requires utilities to invest in energy efficiency-technologies and programs to entice their customers to conserve power.

Patrick is using the legislative mandate to promote wind energy generation. Compared with other states such as Texas and California, Massachusetts produces little wind power. Massachusetts has 6.6 megawatts worth of wind generation capacity from 100-kilowatt turbines, according to the governor's office (see state-by-state comparison of installed capacities). The country had roughly 21 gigawatts installed as of November 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Massachusetts does have 800 megawatts worth of wind energy projects under development, the governor said.

The state intends on making regulatory changes that would make it easier for developers to build wind energy farms. A commission has been set up to review policies and plans to make recommendations this spring to help companies speed up the development process.

Massachusetts is also drafting a management plan for guiding renewable energy generation off its coast. Massachusetts expects to complete the plan, which would identify locations that might be suitable for renewable energy projects, by the end of 2009.

Patrick has launched similar efforts to promote solar energy generation. He previously called for the state to generate 250 megawatts of solar electricity by 2017, a move to support Massachusetts' solar companies such as Evergreen Solar while meeting emissions reduction mandates.

The state launched an incentive program in January 2008 to give rebates for installing solar electric systems at homes and businesses and on public properties. The program's offerings have led to 400 installations, which represent 4.6 megawatts worth of generation capacity.

Another 300 projects worth 3.5 megawatts were pending approval as of December 31, the governor said. The number of companies that install solar energy systems also has grown from 25 to 75 since the launch of the rebate program.

Rebates have become popular tools for states to promote solar power. Some states have seen their programs running out of money much earlier than expected, and are now having trouble refilling the coffers as they deal with budget short falls (see Budget Shortfalls Could Shrink States' Solar Incentives).

Meanwhile, some states are expanding their incentive programs, at least in writing if not in actually funding them. Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine unveiled a plan last month that aimed at attracting renewable energy development and other greentech companies through grants and other incentives.

Kaine also plans to push for legislation that would provide tax credits for residents and businesses to install solar and wind generation systems.