Solar Plant Glare Draws Pilot Complaints

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As if pilots didn't have enough hazards to think about -- bird strikes, other airplanes and random laser pointers, to name a few -- now some pilots have complained that a sprawling new solar-energy plant in California, near the Nevada border, is blindingly bright. "From the pilot's seat of my aircraft the brightness was like looking into the sun," one pilot wrote in a report filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System. Another complaint, filed by an air traffic controller, describes the site as "nearly blinding" and "extremely bright and distracting." The site uses mirrors spread over five square miles of desert to focus sunlight on water towers that then produce steam to generate power.

The complaints were filed last August, but the energy company was just notified about them recently. The energy developer is required under its operating permit to address such complaints, according to the local Press-Enterprise news. Chad Davies, an FBO operator at the Riverside (Calif.) Municipal Airport, told the Press-Enterprise he experienced the glare on an early afternoon last summer. "At the right angle, you will get the intensity, which is similar to looking at a car headlight at night," he said. "If you were to look away you'd still have that shape in your vision."