Pilots Complain of 'Near Blinding' Glare from Ivanpah Solar Plant

ivanpah1Pilots flying over the Ivanpah solar energy plant in northeast San Bernardino County have complained of “nearly blinding” glare from the sun’s reflection off fields of mirrors, federal documents show.

The $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generation System is the largest of its kind in the world. The plant uses 173,500 garage door-sized mirrors to track the sun and reflect it onto boilers in three 459-foot towers.

Two anonymous complaints were filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, part of the Federal Aviation Administration, in August. One was from a Los Angeles air traffic controller; the other from the pilot of a small transport plane that departed from the airport in Boulder City, Nev., southeast of Las Vegas.

The pilot wrote that it was impossible to look in the direction of the 3,500-acre plant because of the intense brightness, which the pilot said was like looking into the sun. The pilot and co-pilot could not look for other planes as their craft climbed from 6,000 to 12,000 feet, the document shows.

“In my opinion the reflection from these mirrors was a hazard to flight because for a brief time I could not scan the sky in that direction to look for other aircraft,” the pilot wrote.

NRG Energy, a co-owner and operator of the plant, was notified of the complaints this week. The company is investigating the issue and will respond within 10 days, company spokesman Jeff Holland said Friday.

Dozens of daily flights from Southern California to Las Vegas’ busy McCarran International Airport cross the California-Nevada border above or near the solar farm. Ivanpah is located west of Interstate 15, southwest of Primm, Nev.

The air traffic controller who alerted the FAA to the blinding glint reported daily complaints about the brightness from pilots navigating the space during the late morning and early afternoon.

“I have no idea what can be done about this situation, but being a passenger on an aircraft that flew through this airspace and saw it for myself, I would say that something needs to be done. It is extremely bright and distracting,” the controller wrote.

In August when the complaints arose, developer BrightSource Energy was testing and calibrating the mirror assemblies, called heliostats, but it is unknown if that had anything to do with the reflection, Holland said. Ivanpah went online in December.