Canberra Airport raises safety concern about 4MW solar farm

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A 4MW solar farm in Canberra is facing possible delays after the operators of Canberra Airport raised concerns that the modules will be located under the northern landing approaches and could temporarily blind pilots.

The 4MW solar PV project has been put together by Solar Choice and its partner Solar Fields after the two companies pooled winning bids from the ACT government’s feed in tariff program for medium sized development.

The project is scheduled to go ahead later this year or early next year, but could be delayed by objections from Canberra Airport, which has forced another review from the Civial Aviation Safety Authority, even though CASA had already given written approval.

Canberra Airport Airport managing director  Stephen Byron told theCanberra Times this week that US Air Force studies found that flashes of bright lights caused pilots to lose vision for between 4-12 seconds.

”On what planet do we have to be to work out that this is probably not a smart idea to allow the construction of this aviation safety hazard?” Byron told the paper.

However, Solar Choice managing director Angus Gemmell  described the airport’s claims as “alarmist” and said solar modules were designed to trap light rather than reflect it.

Gemmell told RenewEconomy that planes landed over Botany Bay at Mascot, and at many other airports adjoining water, where they faced twice the reflectivity of a solar farm. “Sea planes would be banned in that case,” he said.

He noted that Adelaide, Ballarat and Alice Springs airports all had larger solar arrays installed. It has been previously reported that Canberra Airport itself had plans for a 600kW array of its own.

Stefan Jarnason, a director of Solar Fields, said the two external reflection studies had concluded that there was negligible reflection risk for aircraft and traffic.

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A 1.2MW solar array at San Jose airport.

“There are literally hundreds of airports in Australia and around the world with large solar PV installations located under the flight path and even on the airport ground,” he said.

A review from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US had also given the all-clear for solar modules near airports.

The solar farm is planned on land leased from a winery, and will be located on 13 hectares 7kms north of the airport.

It is a fixed tilt configuration and is being built under the ACT governments medium scale solar feed in tariff program, part of its drive that aims to source 90 per cent of its electricity needs from renewables by 2020.


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An 8MW solar array at Thunder Bay airport in Ontario, Canada.



  • Miles Harding

    I’ll go with Angus Gemmell, but add ridiculous and idiotic to the description.

    A simple geometric check would demonstrate if there is a problem, but given the nature of solar panels and their mountings, the likelihood of them presenting an approach or landing navigation hazard in any configuration is very low.


    I suspect that the study being quoted by Canberra Airports is a refers to night vision. Also, the bright lights mentioned may be search lights and not at all comparable to the somewhat diffuse reflections from PV panels, which are more like smooth water.

  • Ronald Brakels

    This is a very odd response considering that Byron could have simply gone to google maps, typed in Adelaide Airport, zoomed in, switched to satellite view after zooming in because this is Australia and it’s not as if we have bandwidth to spare, and seen that Adelaide Airport has solar panels on their roof and that they are much darker than the surrounding unpanelled roof. Then he could have got on the blower or sent an email and checked that it’s not actually a problem. Maybe he somehow managed to confuse solar PV with solar thermal which uses mirrors and can cause glare issues? But if that’s the case why on earth would he talk to a newspaper about it before checking? Maybe he’s just overworked and doesn’t have time to look these things up.