Weber County Layton Canal will get federally funded solar panels to provide electricity and conserve water – Salt Lake Tribune

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Clean energy and adequate water are among Utah’s biggest challenges, and a federally funded experiment will try to address both by placing solar panels over a northern Utah canal.

The U.S. Department of Interior announced it will invest $19 million to turn canals in California, Oregon and Utah into floating power plants.

Utah will get $1.5 million to put the panels on a quarter-mile stretch of the Layton Canal in the Weber County city of West Haven. The canal feeds water from the Weber River to farms west of Ogden.

“There are several positive impacts,” said Scott Paxson, CEO and general manager of Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which controls the canal and is overseeing the project.

The project will generate about one and a half megawatts of clean energy that will be used by the district to run pump stations. Any excess will go to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a consortium of public power systems that includes the water district.

It will also save an estimated 1.2 million gallons of water annually simply by shading that small section of the canal.

And it is expected to improve water quality in the canal because “we’re not growing things in the canal like algae,” Paxson said.

Algal blooms, which have grown more common in Utah, are caused when sunlight penetrates warm water.

Funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act. The bulk of it – $15 million – goes to the Delta-Mendota Canal Floating Solar Project, which includes several miles of solar panels on a canal in the San Joaquin Valley in central California.

And another $2.55 million is going to the North Unit Irrigation District, which supplies water to farmers in the Deschutes River basin of Oregon.

“In partnership with state, tribal and local stakeholders, the Interior Department will continue to invest in essential water infrastructure projects that mitigate the worst impacts of climate change and invest in communities across the country,” said Michael Brain, principal deputy assistant secretary of Interior for water and science.

Unlike the California and Oregon projects, the Utah solar panels will not float on the water. Instead, a structure will be built over the Layton Canal to hold the panels. Paxson said that is necessary so the water district can keep the canal free of obstructions. “We definitely have to be able to get to and watch the water flowing and remove debris.”

He expects it will be fall of 2025 before the project is operational. The district still has to sign a contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“With the federal funds, we also have to make sure it’s ‘Buy America,” Paxson said. “The panels have to be produced and manufactured in America. That might be an issue. I don’t know.”

He said since the announcement next week the district has already been contacted by two contractors who have experience with similar projects.

The test project is expected to run for five years, during which the district will monitor evaporative losses and water quality, and UAMPS will track power production.

But the panels have a life of 15 to 25 years, Paxson said, and they will remain in place and producing power after the test.

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