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World's Largest Solar Farm Generating Pilot Complaints
By Matthew Foster
A solar complex in California that claims to generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes is now generating some controversy.
In two separate reports filed to the Aviation Safety Reporting System, a pilot and an air traffic controller anonymously complained that reflections caused by the complex’s thousands of mirrors were – according to the air traffic controller – “extremely bright and distracting.”
Located in the Mojave Desert near the border of California and Nevada, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility became fully operational in February. Owners of the complex include BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google.
The solar farm uses more than 170,000 mirrors to reflect the sun’s powerful rays into three solar receivers filled with water. The receivers turn the water into steam, and that steam turns a turbine, creating energy.
But the complaints filed to the ASRS indicate that pilots may be temporarily blinded by the mirrors’ brilliant reflections, interfering with their ability to see other planes in the area.
“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,” wrote the anonymous pilot.
According to the records, the air traffic controller filed his/her report after receiving “complaints from pilots,” and added that after taking a plane ride as a passenger to experience the distraction personally, the controller agreed with the complaints.
The complaints both were filed in August of last year.
Testing at the complex, including the functionality and calibration of the large mirrors, was not completed until September of last year, Jeff Holland of NRG told ABCNews.com.
“We were still commissioning, which is testing, essentially, when the complaints were filed,” said Holland.
While they were calibrating the mirrors, the light was being focused in varied locations as opposed to the planned movements the mirrors have now, Holland said.
In addition to the complaints, the Clark County Department of Aviation in Nevada has requested that BrightSource take action in regards to the bright mirrors – giving them until Thursday to respond.
A Clark County Department of Aviation spokeswoman was unavailable late Wednesday to say whether or not there have been any additional complaints.
NRG will be releasing a statement on the initial complaints Thursday, Holland said.
BrightSource did not immediately respond to ABCNews.com’s request for comment.
No air accidents have been reported because of the Ivanpah complex.