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Manchester airport remains in dark over solar-panel glare solution

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 06. 2013 8:15PM
Solar panels at Manchester Boston Regional Airport. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Engineers have recommended that solar panels on top of a Manchester airport parking garage be repositioned toward the east — rather than the sun-drenched south — to prevent glare that has bothered air-traffic controllers, an airport official said.

The recommendation comes as the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport continues to drape tarps over some of the 2,200 solar panels on top of an airport parking garage. The drapes went up last August when controllers started complaining about early morning glare.

Since then, the airport, Federal Aviation Administration, controllers and others have been working with consultants to fix the problem, said J. Brian O'Neill, deputy airport director.

The $3.5 million solar panel installation, the largest in New Hampshire, was paid for with a federal grant and is designed to power the parking garage and sky bridge that lead to the airport terminal. In the summer, the airport sells excess electricity to Public Service of New Hampshire.

Before the project was built, airport officials hired a consultant — Harris, Miller, Miller & Hanson of Burlington, Mass. — to apply for the FAA grant and study glare issues. The firm earned $41,570.

Ever since the glare emerged, the firm has been working with the airport, O'Neill said.

"They've been very thorough with their due diligence," O'Neill said. "There hasn't been any 'No, no, no. We're not responsible, this is your problem, not our problem.' They've been very cooperative to work with."

An email sent to the firm Tuesday was not returned.

The next step is for the firm and its insurance company to present the ideas on how to solve the glare issue, O'Neill said. The firm could either agree with repositioning the panels or suggest another solution.

Another team of consultants, which involves engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Volpe Center and Sandia National Laboratories, has recommended repositioning the panels to the east.

O'Neill acknowledged that the repositioning will reduce the energy output of the panels; sun from the east is not as strong as sun from the south.

But the plan calls for adding another 180 panels, so the energy output — 560,000 to 575,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year — will remain the same, he said.

The airport still expects to reach its target of $100,000 in energy savings a year, he said.

O'Neill said the consultants and working group are moving into the second phase of discussions, which involve who has to pay to correct the problem. The price tag would also include $34,800 for work done by the MIT/Volpe group.

"We're going to get back together and discuss responsibility and discuss the path for correcting the problem," he said.

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