ACT News


Airport warns over dangers of solar farm

A proposed solar farm under the northern landing approach to Canberra Airport will temporarily blind pilots of incoming planes, says the airport.

Managing director Stephen Byron said the federal planning agency, the National Capital Authority, would not approve the new solar farm until proponent Solar Choice had consulted with the airport.

Quoting a US Air Force study which showed people exposed to bright light flashes took four to 12 seconds to recover vision to read instruments, Mr Byron said the solar farm would be a potential hazard for pilots.

''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?''

Solar Choice says this is alarmist.

Managing director Angus Gemmell said studies had shown water reflectivity was twice that of solar panels.


''If Canberra Airport are concerned, what would they have to say about pilots flying over Botany Bay and landing at Mascot over a water surface, which has twice the reflectivity of a solar farm? The last thing anyone wants is for air safety to be at risk,'' he said.

Both men are relying on the Civil Aviation Safety Authority's views. But the airport says Solar Choice is restricting access to CASA's studies. Solar Choice denies this.

Canberra Airport has consulted and supported three other ACT solar farm developers at Hume, Uriarra and Royalla.

Mr Byron said the airport discovered the proposed Majura project, seven kilometres away, when reading the Canberra Times in March.

The airport says air safety regulations will need to be updated to specifically address solar farms.

''CASA has advised there is nowhere in the world that a solar farm of this sort of scale has been built directly under the arrival paths into an airport at this proximity,'' Mr Byron said.

He said Solar Choice's panels would be fixed and angled at 10 degrees west of north - namely 350 degrees.

''The main Canberra Airport runway is orientated at 350 degrees so pilots landing aircraft will be flying directly into the angle of glare reflected from the solar panels,'' he said. ''There are no alternative flight paths due to hills. There is no way for planes to avoid the glare.''

Solar Choice wants to develop a 13 hectare solar farm seven kilometres

north of the airport on land leased from Majura Winery, as part of the ACT government's renewable energy drive.

Its planning documents say Australian airports with large solar power arrays include Adelaide, Ballarat and Alice Springs. Mr Gemmell said Solar Choice deferred to CASA as the ultimate arbiter of aircraft safety.

He said reports showed solar modules did not present a blinding danger to pilots. They were designed to trap light, not reflect it.

''Installations many times larger than ours are (near airports) across Europe and the United States, sometimes within 100 metres of a tarmac. There are massive ones in Germany,'' he said.

Mr Gemmell said Canberra Airport had approval for 600 kilowatts of medium scale feed-in tariff approvals, which could be deployed at any time.

He said the direction of panels was irrelevant because the sun moved throughout the day.


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