BLP addresses noise complaints

Marquette Board of Light and Power Executive Director Tom Carpenter addresses the Marquette Township Board regarding noise complaints from residents stemming from the Marquette Energy Center, which began operating in August. The BLP is working with the engine manufacturer to identify the source of the problem and resolve the issue. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Township Board heard an update Tuesday from the Marquette Board of Light and Power about noise emanating from the Marquette Energy Center.

BLP Executive Director Tom Carpenter provided the board with additional information and assurances that the BLP and Wartsila, the manufacturer of the MEC’s three 16.7-megawatt reciprocating internal combustion engines weighing nearly 400 tons each, are actively working on the problem.

Since November, more than a dozen residents in different locations have submitted written complaints stemming from the operation of the MEC, including a “rapidly repeating percussion noise,” and “excessive and continual rumbling.”

Carpenter said when he got calls about the issue, he went to visit some of the households so he could hear it firsthand. He said he did hear the noise.

“I visited and I sat there and listened. It was very apparent to me at the time and everybody else in our company that it was likely the engines itself,” Carpenter said. “It’s the … 400-ton mass of steel rotating; it’s that low-frequency kind of rumble.”

Carpenter said Wartsila sent sound engineers to the MEC for a week in December to evaluate the situation.

“We spent an exhaustive week analyzing every opening in the building — the roof, the silencers, (they) went up to all the houses and came up with a report,” Carpenter said. “What that told us is we have a little bit of a noise leakage through some of the building from the engines in a certain frequency range.”

Carpenter said he had been hoping to bring an update from the Wartsila engineers to the board within two weeks.

“It’s a slow process to try to find a way to mitigate that noise, and they have a team in Italy and Finland actually working together to figure out some kind of solution,” he said.

With the coal-fired Shiras Steam Plant’s operation to be ramped down in late June or early July, the MEC engines will be running more regularly, Carpenter said. The frequency and duration of engine operation will depend on economics and the cost of generating power locally versus obtaining power from the grid, which is overseen by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator.

Several board members expressed concern that the noise problem would not be resolved before that point.

“I guess what bothers me is that we are scheduled to start those up regardless of whether we have the noise issue resolved or not,” Trustee Dave Wiegand said.

Carpenter said in addition to potential environmental issues, the BLP will be out of fuel for the Shiras plant.

“Come June or July we will be out of coal to run Shiras,” Carpenter said. “And shipping coal into the harbor is not something you do for a short duration. We can’t ship a week’s worth of coal in a day. We need to ship 25,000 tons at a time by freighter.”

Trustee John Markes said sound studies require in-depth engineering and expressed appreciation of the BLP’s attempts to resolve the situation.

“I think what we are getting tonight is, you are making a commitment that you are aware of the problem that’s been recognized by the residents,” Markes said. “You’ve been there, you know it’s there and you are using the expertise of the manufacturer and their engineers and their sound study people to conclude what it is that they need to attack to alleviate the problem.”

Carpenter said the BLP would continue to do everything they could to find a solution.

“From the very beginning, the very first time we got a complaint, we have been doing our very best to find an answer,” he said. “I cannot promise anybody in this room that there is going to be a fix to a certain frequency, but we are going to try our best and we are hiring the best people we can to help us in that process.”

He said he will have more answers when he receives the final report from Wartsila.

“They told me they would be very surprised if they could not come up with a solution,” Carpenter said.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.