Glaring Oversight: Airport Solar Panels Irk Controllers

A quarter of the panels in New Hampshire’s biggest solar power array — the one atop a parking garage at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport — have been covered with tarps after air traffic controllers said glare from the panels was distracting them.

The Union-Leader in New Hampshire reported last week that the glare issue arises for less than an hour on sunny mornings, but that’s enough to be a concern.

Solar power hasn’t been an issue at the Denver airport (image via Denver International)

The Federal Aviation Administration told the paper that covering the panels was an interim measure pending a permanent solution.

This solar installation is a project that was funded with more than $3.3 million from the FAA’s Voluntary Airport Low Emissions initiative [PDF].

Harris Miller Miller & Hanson, a Massachusetts consultancy, developed the proposal that won the FAA grant. On its website, HMMH says it “worked with airport staff to identify potential locations for a solar project,” and that “based on available area … prepared a solar project concept comprised of approximately 2,200 solar panels mounted on carport canopy structures having a nameplate generating capacity of 525 kilowatts.”

The potential for this sort of trouble isn’t something regulators, airport operators and solar developers were unaware of.

The FAA’s “Technical Guidance for Evaluating Selected Solar Technologies on Airports” [PDF], developed in 2010, has a long section on avoiding such glaring issues. It notes that larger systems can be more challenging than smaller ones, but also points out that “solar installations are presently operating at a number of airports including megawatt-sized solar facilities” covering many acres. “To date, there have been no serious complaints from pilots or air traffic control due to glare impacts from existing airport solar installations,” the guidance says.

We’ve written about a number of big solar arrays at airports, including ones in Albuquerque, Phoenix, Chattanooga and Denver, all of which are much larger than the New Hampshire project.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply September 21, 2012

    Adam

    It’s a shame that they haven’t been able to come up with a solution to this problem. Carports have an unused surface area on top that is perfect to put solar panels on.

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