Interior Department Urged to Deploy Solar Power on Federal Canals

WASHINGTON—More than 125 groups are urging the US Bureau of Reclamation and the Interior Department to develop a new initiative to deploy solar power over the nearly 8,000 miles of canals owned and operated by the federal government.

Today’s letter to the Interior Department and Bureau of Reclamation said installing solar panels over open-air canals and aqueducts would generate power and reduce evaporative water loss because of climate change-induced droughts.

“Focusing the deployment of solar energy on water-conveyance canals — an already built environment — and already within the Bureau of Reclamation’s control, could allow the department to meet the requirements of the Energy Act of 2020 mandate to deploy 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy on public lands without destroying a single additional acre of habitat,” the letter said.

“Instead of sacrificing even more public lands, the Interior Department should deploy renewable energy in places that have already been developed, like water canals,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We don’t have to pave over thousands of acres of desert public lands and destroy wildlife habitat for renewable energy. This initiative can help reduce water loss, create jobs in frontline communities and preserve public lands.”

Many canals operated by the Bureau of Reclamation are near environmental justice communities. Renewable energy deployment above canal systems would produce clean energy that displaces dirty fossil-fuel energy in those communities, while also providing jobs for low-wealth communities throughout the West.

“Putting solar panels over canals and in the built environment helps conserve desert ecosystems,” said Cody Hanford, joint executive director at the Mojave Desert Land Trust, a Joshua Tree, California-based conservation group. “We work with federal agencies every day to ensure that conservation is a part of our energy transition. Prioritizing solar development on canals and in urban areas can help reduce pressure on our vulnerable desert wildlands.”

California has launched a pilot project to install solar panels over some of its canals, while similar solar systems are being installed overseas in countries including India and Lebanon. If most Bureau of Reclamation canals were covered with solar panels, it could generate enough renewable energy to power nearly 20 million homes.

Canals play a key role in an equitable clean energy future, as outlined in a positive vision policy brief released by a coalition of environmental justice and conservation organizations this year.

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