Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) has unveiled plans to build a 12.5 megawatt floating solar project in Sonoma County, one that will not only be the biggest project of its kind in the U.S. but will also be the second largest in the world, after Kyocera’s planned 13.4MW facility in Japan. The project will be floated atop irrigation ponds in the county, preserving farmland for its conventional agricultural purposes while providing sustainable power to 3,000 homes in California’s wine country.

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The floating solar project will be built over six irrigation ponds, which are used for storing wastewater. Two of the ponds are located in northwest Santa Rosa, and four are located in the Sonoma Valley. Additionally, the Sonoma County Water Agency has identified several more ponds in the region, largely located at wineries, on which more small-scale solar projects could be developed.

Floating solar projects have several advantages over traditional grounded ones. First, “underutilized” bodies of water tend to have lower lease costs than land; this is particularly true in Northern California, which is dense in farmland. There are around 1,400 irrigation ponds in Sonoma County that have the potential to provide a relatively low cost home for solar projects.

Related: Kyocera is building the world’s largest floating solar plant

Additionally, these irrigation ponds are often located somewhat out of sight and installing a floating solar array over them will not disrupt views of the countryside for visitors or risk negative impacts on tourism. On top of that, the ponds are located near distribution lines—used to power the irrigation pumps—and that existing infrastructure can reduce the cost of interconnecting with the grid.

There is also the slight potential that locating a solar project over water may be more productive than a ground-mounted system. Greentech Media reports that the developers anticipate the the modest cooling effect of the water will improve electricity production. There is a risk that, while the solar panels won’t actually touch the water, they may encounter some degradation issues, but SCP is clear that the California tax payers are not assuming any risk for this project.

The 12.5MW floating solar project will be built by Sonoma Clean Power in partnership with San Francisco-based Pristine Sun, and should be complete in 2016.

Via Greentech Media

Images via Shutterstock (1, 2)