Federal Government Backs California’s Plan to Install Solar Panels Over Canals

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Proponents say the projects will lead to less water evaporation and potentially less invasive aquatic plant growth as panels will shade water in the canal.

SANTA NELLA, Calif.—A division of the federal government announced April 4 a $15 million solar-over-canals pilot project in California, which officials say could conserve water and potentially reduce the cost of power and water in the state.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom joined members from the Biden administration and two local Congressmen, among others, to celebrate the announcement at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota aqueduct in Santa Nella in the Central Valley.

Funding for the project will come from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021.

Money will be used to test a variety of systems over five years, including floating solar panels and those that span canals to determine which are most effective and economically feasible.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota Canal in Santa Nella, Calif., in the Central Valley on April 4, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota Canal in Santa Nella, Calif., in the Central Valley on April 4, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

Citing less water evaporation and potentially less invasive aquatic plant growth—as panels will shade water in the canal—proponents, including the governor, suggest the projects are “common-sense no-brainers” that could prove immensely beneficial to the state.

“The evaporation benefits alone are profound and consequential,” Mr. Newsom said in response to a question from The Epoch Times.

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A 2021 study by the University of California–Merced found that nearly 65 billion gallons of water lost to evaporation could be saved annually if the state’s approximately 4,000 miles of aqueducts were covered by solar panels.

With miles of canal to be covered starting later this year, an untold number of jobs will be created, the governor said.

“Jobs are an absolutely critical component of this, as well,” Mr. Newsom told The Epoch Times. “[Our green energy projects] are creating an economic output and competitive footprint for this state that in many ways is the envy of the world.”

The new projects follow the state’s $20 million investment in canal-spanning solar panels overseen by the water district out of Turlock in the northern part of the Central Valley, initiated in 2022. The program known as “Project Nexus” was the first of its kind in the nation and is expected to be completed in 2024.

While some agriculture advocates have resisted solar panels in the Central Valley—known as one of the most productive farming regions in the world—because they see solar farms as a land use threat, the projects are mutually beneficial since no real estate acquisitions are needed, according to supporters of the plan.

“This is existing, built infrastructure, so you’re not competing with other open space,” Mr. Newsom said.

Other potential benefits include increased energy, according to the UC Merced study which found that about 13 gigawatts of power—enough to power San Francisco for more than one year—could be produced if all canals are covered.

Such energy production could help drive down the price of power across the state and potentially lower water costs, according to one Democratic Congressman who has long championed the ideas now coming to fruition.

“This idea of putting … solar over canals makes so much sense, and we’ve been talking about it for so long,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said during the press conference. “Now, we’re making it happen.”

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., speaks at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota Canal in Santa Nella, Calif., in the Central Valley on April 4, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., speaks at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota Canal in Santa Nella, Calif., in the Central Valley on April 4, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

He said the projects will allow stakeholders to better understand what options are available that minimize maintenance costs and produce effective results.

“This is such a thoughtful and intelligent way to move forward on this,” Mr. Huffman said. “We’re all very excited to see how it goes and figure out which of these technologies works the best and scale it up because the benefits are so great.”

One official from the federal government said the plan is a testament to coordinated efforts and could play an integral role in a sustainable future.

“These projects truly are innovation and creativity at work to meet the moment, and they showcase what exactly we can accomplish when we come together, with states, tribes, and local communities to solve these big problems,” Michael Brain, principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior, said during the press conference. “Our shared priority is to continue the momentum … and help build resilient communities to protect our water supplies for people and the natural environment.”

The head of the department in charge of overseeing the pilot projects said studying methodologies is vitally important.

“Water is essential to everything we do,” Camille Calimlim Touton, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, said during the event. “As a result, any investment in water infrastructure is an investment in our future.”

Camille Calimlim Touton, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, speaks at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota Canal in Santa Nella, Calif., in the Central Valley on April 4, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)
Camille Calimlim Touton, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, speaks at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota Canal in Santa Nella, Calif., in the Central Valley on April 4, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

She said the projects could set the tone for a symbiotic relationship between energy production and water delivery.

“This is really an opportunity for us to learn,” Ms. Touton said. “We are leading by example to drive clean, healthy, and resilient operations.”

A local representative noted the importance of the investment and said such has been needed for decades.

“This is about investing in America because we have not been making the investments we needed a long time ago,” Rep. Jim Costa said during the press conference. “We’re living off of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., speaks at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota Canal in Santa Nella, Calif., in the Central Valley on April 4, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)
U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., speaks at a press conference at a pumping station on the Delta-Mendota Canal in Santa Nella, Calif., in the Central Valley on April 4, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

He underscored the importance of water to the agricultural region and beyond.

“Where water flows, food grows,” Mr. Costa said. “It is the undeniable critical element in sustainability, of not only the future of our valley, but our state, and our nation.”

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