Image: Solar panels in ditches
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Solar panels on trackers that follow the sun were installed in storm water ditches at the West County Wastewater District in Richmond, Calif.
msnbc.com
updated 2/19/2009 6:05:27 PM ET 2009-02-19T23:05:27

Two California counties this week unveiled new solar power installations that track the sun during the day — in once case from storm water runoff ditches.

In Richmond, the West County Wastewater District on Wednesday showed off a five-acre installation with 89 tracking arrays, each 22-by-36 feet. Of those, 28 are built atop storm water ditches.

"The solar panels follow the sun, increasing the system’s efficiency by up to 35 percent compared to a similar sized system mounted in a fixed position," West County WaWastewater General Manager E.J. Shalaby said in a statement.

The arrays are expected to provide enough electricity to power 35 percent of the water district's needs.

In Lake County, also in Northern California, officials on Thursday announced the completion of an expansion of a similar system. The Lake County project put panels atop the county jail and at two wastewater plants.

"We expect these solar power installations to save Lake County taxpayers and ratepayers between $1.6 million and $5 million over the next 20 years, depending on utility rate increases," said Mark Dellinger, a Lake County Sanitation District official.

In both cases, the counties used a business model whereby solar power entrepreneurs put up the capital to install and run the sites, in exchange for selling excess power to the grid. The counties were also able to lock in fixed prices for their electricity from the solar installations.

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