Pilots say they're blinded by the glare from major solar power plant


The glare from a major solar power plant in the US has been blinding some pilots flying over the area, according to a report filed this month with the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). As Quartz reports, the problem stems from the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on the border between California and Nevada, which is the world's largest solar power plant. Pilots have been complaining that the sunlight that reflects off of the panels and on to 500-foot towers poses a safety risk, though it apparently took months for their reports to reach the appropriate authorities.

"From the pilot’s seat of my aircraft the brightness was like looking into the sun," one pilot claimed in the report, describing the reflection as "a hazard to flight because for a brief time I could not scan the sky in that direction to look for other aircraft." An air traffic controller added that other pilots have filed similar complaints, with one describing the glare as "nearly blinding."

"we take these concerns seriously."

The complaints were first filed in August 2013, but it took about six months for them to reach the California Energy Commission, the regulatory body charged with overseeing Ivanpah and other plants. The aviation department in Clark County, Nevada received the report in January, and only passed it along to California regulators after having looked into the claims. It's not clear why the ASRS program did not notify the California Energy Commission immediately, and Nevada aviation authorities could not say whether flights out of the Las Vegas could be affected by the glare. (The Ivanpah complex is located about 40 miles away from the airport.)

New Jersey-based NRG Energy is one of the investors in Ivanpah — along with Google — and is charged with operating the power plant. The company says it is looking into the matter, though it noted that the complaints were filed at a time when Ivanpah's heliostats were still being tested, and before the facility was fully operational.

"What I can tell you right now is that we take these concerns seriously," NRG Energy spokesman Jeff Holland told Quartz. "We will respond to — and address — these reports in the coming days in accordance with conditions of our permits."

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