Thursday, February 4, 2016

Council not willing to risk airport safety for solar field project

Montevideo, MN  --  

Despite approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Geronimo Energy (based in Edina) to build a field of solar panels in designated airport safety zones, the Monte­video City Council moved not to sell Geronimo any city land at Monday night’s meeting.

The goal of the project is to bring a clean, cheap source of energy to supplement Monte­video’s existing power grid.

The proposed site of the solar field is just northwest of Walmart. The Monte­video-Chip­­pewa County airport is about one half-mile northwest of the site. This half-mile stretch contains the airport’s A and B safety zones which are almost completely devoid of buildings. There are tight restrictions on what can be built in these zones in case of a plane crash or emergency landing.

The A zone is the closest to the airport and the most restrictive as to what can be built there. The B zone can allow a few small buildings, but for the most part is meant to be left empty.

“There’s no worse place to build than an A or B zone,” said Montevideo City Manager Steve Jones.

The FAA approved Geronimo to build the solar field despite the proposed location being roughly one-third in zone A and two-thirds in zone B. The size of the solar field and minimal amount of employees who would be working on site deemed it acceptable.

The city was also concerned the reflected light from the solar panels would interfere with pilots going to and from the airport. Patrick Smith, Geronimo’s director of permitting, was present at the meeting said they conducted a glare study at the site which was reviewed by the FAA. Both fixed-tilt and sun tracking panels were deemed to not be hazardous by the FAA. Smith said using a sun tracking system keeps the panels perpendicular to the sun at all times, which will eliminate much of the glare.

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