UPDATE: The GREC did reopen on Dec. 13, but Rodgers said it opened with a “cold start,” which can involve temporary loud venting noises. The video Williamson recorded was taken on the same day of the expected sounds.
Some Alachua County residents are still not pleased with Gainesville Renewable Energy Center’s efforts to reduce loud noises billowing from its biomass plant.
The complaints began in August, claiming that loud airplane-like sounds throughout the day and night were causing a disturbance. After many Alachua County and Gainesville city commission meetings, GREC agreed to resolve the issue and install noise-absorbing acoustic panels inside the plant’s stack to subdue the sounds.
Mark Rodgers, the communications director for Energy Management Inc., said the panels were installed on Dec. 6. The plant resumed working on Dec. 13.
GREC said the panels reduced the stack noise by 17 decibels, which is about a 75 percent decrease in the level of noise to the human ear.
However, some Turkey Creek residents said it is still as loud as before.
Peter Perkins lives 1.5 miles away from the plant. He said he thinks the noise travels across the treetops and falls into his community.
Perkins has high-frequency hearing loss from his time in the army, so the low rumbles that he hears one or two times a week from the plant are very loud to him. He said his neighbors hear it too.
“You can hear it inside the house,” Perkins said. “It’s like you live next to the airport.”
Although the sound is not as consistent, when it happens at night, “it will take you out of the bed,” he said.
In October, the City of Gainesville discussed buying the plant for $400 million during a commission meeting, but the vote failed. Perkins believes the city just does not want to get involved with the issue.
“I remain greatly disappointed with the city and the county,” he said. “It’s a total lose-lose situation for us out here.”
Another retired resident, Larry Noegel, said it sounds like someone is power washing his house from the inside. Noegel has lived in Turkey Creek for seven years, but he said he wants to move to get away from the noise.
On top of the noise, Noegel said he is worried about the health effects of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions. People only hear the rumbles and smell the discharge, which Noegel describes as sour apples.
“We’re within two miles of the plant,” he said. “We’re in a danger zone.”
Resident Greg Williamson recorded the sounds on Dec. 13, the day the plant reopened after the installation of the panels.
The noise ordinance set by the City of Gainesville is 66 decibels during the day and 60 at night.
In January, WUFT News attempted to gather sound recordings in Turkey Creek using the iPhone application Decibel 10th. This was done before 4 p.m., a similar time to Williamson’s recording. The sounds gathered collectively averaged around 45 decibels.
Though the noises are no longer consistent, Noegel is still upset.
“They’re the rudest neighbors I’ve ever had,” he said.
In response to the sounds residents continue to hear, Rodgers said many plants cannot help making noise. He said reverberations from nearby U.S. Route 441 and variable weather conditions can add to the clatter.
“I’m not aware of measures that can completely get rid of noise,” Rodgers said.