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Distributed Energy Resources

Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community Receives Funding for Solar over Canal Project

The Department of the Interior on Dec. 8 announced $5.65 million in funding for the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona to construct and install solar panels over the Casa Blanca Canal.

The Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority “is honored to be working with the community, Department of the Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Pima Maricopa Irrigation Project on the interconnection and eventual operation of the various project phases,” said Ken Stock, General Manager for the Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority.

“This project will add to the community’s use of renewable energy and will directly offset energy currently sourced via natural gas,” he said,

The Department of the Interior noted that solar panels placed over canals have the potential to create several significant benefits, including:  

  • Reducing evaporation losses of the canal; 
  • Increasing efficiency and production of solar panels because of the cooling effect of the water beneath the panels; 
  • Creating land savings for open space and agricultural use; 
  • Reducing facility maintenance by mitigating algae and/or aquatic plant growth; and 
  • Reducing the energy footprint and carbon emissions required to operate and maintain the facility. 

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will work with the Gila River Indian Community to cover 2,782 linear feet of the Casa Blanca canal with approximately 2,556 solar panels.

The solar panels are expected to generate 1.31 megawatts of clean energy, providing 2.26 million kilowatt-hours of annual electricity to the Gila River Indian Community.

This pilot will serve as a five-year study period and provide important information for future solar projects over canals and for the Gila River Indian Community as they seek to include solar panels over 18.5 miles of canal, the Department of the Interior said.  

The Inflation Reduction Act made available $25 million for the design, study and implementation of projects to cover water conveyance facilities with solar panels.

The Dec. 8 announcement is the first award of this funding, with more expected in the coming months.