Pilots complain that glare from the world's biggest solar power plant is blinding them

Airplane pilots reported that they were blinded by the intense sunlight reflecting off some of the 340,000 mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on the California-Nevada border. Yet six months elapsed before their reports reached the regulator that oversees the plant, which is located near the Las Vegas airport.

The mirrors, called heliostats, focus the sun on 459-foot-high (140 meter) towers that contain water-filled boilers. The concentrated sunlight boils the water to create steam, driving turbines that generate 377 megawatts of carbon-free electricity. The heat is so blistering that it has melted the feathers of birds in mid-flight.

Planes fly far too high to be affected by the heat—but by not the light. “From the pilot’s seat of my aircraft the brightness was like looking into the sun,” reported one pilot as his small plane climbed from 6,000 to 12,000 feet after taking off from the Boulder City, Nevada, airport. In a report he filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), the pilot wrote that, “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.”

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