Making sure solar panels don’t create ‘flash blindness’ for pilots at Watertown’s airport

Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 3:57 PM EDT
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TOWN OF HOUNSFIELD, New York (WWNY) - Having the sun in your eyes while driving can be distracting. Now imagine that while flying a plane. With two solar panel projects proposed near Watertown’s airport, officials are working to ensure safety.

With four daily commercial flights coming and going from the Watertown International Airport, safety for pilots and passengers is crucial.

With a pair of solar panel projects proposed near the airport, officials are exploring safety concerns with the glare coming off the panels.

“Solar panels could affect and create a flash blindness when aircraft are arriving or departing on a flight path,” said Grant Sussey, airport manager.

The two projects were brought to the Jefferson County Planning Board last week. The first proposal is in the town of Watertown off Floral Drive. Those solar panels are tracking, meaning they rotate with the sun.

“The panels track east or west or on a trajectory; there’s more areas where there could be some reflection,” said Sussey.

The county planning board has requested a glare analysis be done for that project. That proposal isn’t up for approval yet. The town of Watertown has to iron out some zoning issues for the project to move forward.

The other proposal would put solar panels on a patch of farmland off State Route 12F in the town of Hounsfield, not too far from the base of the runway. A glare analysis has already been completed, and officials are satisfied with the result.

“The report came back and that glare was not going to have a significant impact on the flights,” said Michael Bourcy, Jefferson County Planning Department director.

The county planning board passed that proposal off to the town of Hounsfield for review.

Sussey says neither project is related to the airport or the solar panel manufacturing plant coming to the airport business park.

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