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August 30. 2012 12:15AM

Airport controllers complain of solar panels' glare


Part of the new solar-panel array atop the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport's parking garage has been draped in black to cut glare after air traffic controllers raised concerns. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — About 25 percent of a solar-panel array at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has been temporarily shut down after air-traffic controllers started complaining about glare, an airport official said.

Officials recently draped tarps over the troublesome panels, which are part of the 2,200-panel solar field installed on top of the airport parking garage this year. It went online early this month.

The airport, the Federal Aviation Administration, contractors and a consultant are studying the glare problem, said Brian O'Neill, deputy airport manager.

Before the airport moved forward on the $3.5 million projects, its consultant assured officials there would be no problems with glare for aircraft or the air-traffic control tower, O'Neill said.

“We're looking to see — the pre-construction work — where it lacked accuracy,” he said.

For about 45 minutes each morning, glare from the panels hits the tower, which is west of the parking garage, O'Neill said. No aircraft or airlines have complained about glare, he added.

The project is almost entirely funded by the FAA and is designed to displace air-polluting power generation activities. It is the largest solar array in the state, O'Neill said.

An FAA Voluntary Airport Low Emissions grant paid for 95 percent of the 500 kilowatt project.

The project is expected to save the airport $100,000 in electricity costs each year, which amounts to 30 to 40 percent of the electricity needed to power the garage.

The panels take up about two-thirds of the top of the parking garage.

The airport worked with the Burlington, Mass., consulting firm of Harris, Miller, Miller & Hanson Inc. on the project. A telephone message left at the firm was not returned Wednesday.

Possible solutions include moving some of the panels, altering the 20-degree tilt of the problem panels, or modifying the tower, such as adding blinds, O'Neill said.

The changing height and path of the sun over a year's time will be taken into account. O'Neill said he expects a solution will be agreed to within 90 days.

He said officials also have to determine who will pay for any modifications.

O'Neill said this isn't the first time the FAA and airports have had to address issues with glare. A Las Vegas hotel once had to alter its glass exteriors because of its effect on the nearby airport.

O'Neill said the Manchester airport is not dismissing the concerns.

“We are 100 percent on board with the tower,” O'Neill said. “If they raised glare as a concern, we support them, and we're working toward a solution.”

The FAA would not answer a reporter's questions but issued a statement.

“The FAA and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport officials are developing a plan to eliminate glare from a solar array on the airport parking garage. Airport officials have covered the solar panels as an interim measure until a permanent solution is in place.”

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Mark Hayward may be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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