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First Solar-Covered Canal in U.S. to Go Online This Summer

Work is nearly complete on a pilot project erecting solar canopies over a canal on tribal land south of Phoenix. When finished, it will be the first solar-covered canal in the U.S.

The project will cover a half-mile of the Casa-Blanca Canal, part of a network owned by the Gila River Indian Community, and will deliver power to the Pima and Maricopa tribes. Tectonicus, the firm behind the project, expects it will connect to the grid this summer, Canary Media reports. A similar canal pilot project is underway south of Modesto, California, and is set to be completed next year.

Solar canopies over canals have several upsides, experts say. Unlike many large-scale arrays, they don’t occupy needed farmland or destroy wilderness. They also shade water flowing through canals, slowing evaporation, an important advantage in the drought-afflicted Southwest. By one estimate, covering the vast network of canals in California with solar panels would conserve enough water to supply 2 million residents.

The challenge of canal solar projects, however, is that they cost around twice as much as arrays on land, Canary Media reports, largely due to the cost of pylons needed to hold up the panels.

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