Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Asheville Downtown in the past three years has become unbearably LOUD. The city does not seem to be able to figure out how to control this huge increasing noise — from flag wavers singing into amplifiers to the pseudo-buskers blasting amps turned up, and some playing bongos and drums for hours. The police department has to control the noise of vehicles due to the danger and safety needed. So, my questions: How many tickets have been issued for noise violations downtown in 2023? Are these issued by people hired to help control the noise? If there is a “noise team,” how many of them work from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., when the noise downtown is extreme? How many tickets — real tickets — have been issued by the police department for the extremely loud mufflers and the stereos cranked up in vehicles that shake even the tallest of buildings?
My answer: Suddenly, living a mile from the airport and right between two major highways, with a house full of barking basset hounds, seems pretty darned blissful.
Real answer: Asheville City spokesperson Kim Miller answered via email on behalf of the city on this one. To cut to the chase, no citations have been issued.
The Asheville Police Department is not the main player in this arena anymore.
“The vast majority of monitoring noise ordinance compliance now falls to the Development Services Department’s noise compliance division,” Miller said. “While the Asheville Police Department still plays a role, the passing of the revised noise ordinance in the fall of 2021 means officers now respond to residential and commercial noise complaints after hours.”
In those cases, the officers respond and record information on the complaint so Development Services staff can follow up, Miller said.
“A responding officer does have the discretion to request the violator to comply,” Miller said. “If there is no compliance, then an officer could issue a citation.”
So far in 2023, the APD has responded to 583 calls for loud music or noise, which can also include loud neighbors, exhaust, construction noise, loud parties and other incidents. Of those, 54 were in the downtown area.
“No citations have been issued,” Miller said. “One noise violation ticket has been issued to a motor vehicle.”
The Development Services Department’s compliance team handles “the vast majority of complaints,” Miller said.
“There is no standard coverage outside the work week, which is 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, she added.
“But focused after-hours staff do visit targeted businesses to measure noise level,” Miller said. “Many of these are related to live music venues. When concerts are scheduled, the team will often take a pass through downtown and other areas to monitor noise levels.”
Question: Duke Energy indicated some time ago that they were going to put solar panels in the area that formerly was used for coal ash at the Lake Julian power plant. How is that project coming along? When will it be online? How much electricity is it expected to generate on average, and how many typical homes in Asheville would be electrified by this green energy?
My answer: If coal ash ever becomes a valuable commodity for future Earth, those folks will really thank us. We made a lot of coal ash.
Real answer: This work is ongoing at the Lake Julian power plant site.
“We’re repurposing as much of the former coal plant site as possible for North Carolina’s clean energy transition,” Duke Energy spokesperson Bill Norton said via email. “We are planning a 9.5-megawatt solar facility at the Asheville Plant, and that project is actively under development.”
Construction should start in 2025, and the project should be in service in the spring of 2026, he said. The solar plant will generate enough electricity annually to power 1,900 homes.
The new natural-gas powered plant at Lake Julian, which Duke calls the Asheville Combined Cycle Station, was built in the footprint of the site’s first excavated ash basin. The new plant is 75% more efficient than the coal plant it replaced, Norton said.
Duke burned a lot of coal at this site, as the original plant, built by Carolina Power & Light, opened in 1964 and operated until 2020. Duke had two large coal ash basins on site.
“Excavation of the second and final basin was completed in June 2022, ahead of state deadlines, and coal plant demolition was finished shortly afterward,” Norton said. “The land was then contoured for stormwater and drainage management and to accommodate solar.”
Norton noted that the new plant complements the upcoming solar operation, as it can provide power to customers on cloudy days and through the night.
Another Duke spokesperson, Randy Wheeless, told me that Duke already has a solar operation running in Madison County.
“The Hot Springs Microgrid went online earlier this year and was designed to increase reliability,” Wheeless said via email, adding the facility consists of two megawatts of solar and a 4.4-megawatt battery, operating on 15 acres.
Hot Springs has a population of around 500.
“In the case of an outage, the microgrid can carry the town’s load for four to six hours — depending on weather, maybe longer,” Wheeless said. “That equals the length of time of what outages were historically in the area.”
Dukle is also working with Buncombe County government on a 5-megawatt solar power plant on the closed Buncombe County landfill in Woodfin, near Interstate 26 and the French Broad River.
“It should be online late this year or early next year,” Wheeless said.
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