It seems South Bend’s city officials are genuinely interested in the benefits of a hydroelectric generator on the East Race of the river. After signing onto the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities initiative to cut greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke agreed that hydroelectricity can play an integral role in reducing the city’s dependency on coal-powered energy. Additionally, Gary Gilot, South Bend’s Director of Public Works, has asked the generator’s designer to submit up-dated studies for the project.

Initially proposed in the 1980’s as part of the redevelopment of the East Race, the generator was to be integrated into the river-walk and park-like setting on the east side of the river. The original design includes a below-river level viewing concourse situated between the proposed generator and the fish ladder currently in place. Modeled after a similar concourse at the Chittenden-Ballard locks in Seattle, this feature allows visitors to watch the generator’s turbines through windows on one wall and migrating fish on the other.

As wonderful as this project could be, South Bend would be hard-pressed to pay for a 1.5 Megawatt generator and viewing concourse on its own. What if the city found partners able to see the benefits for our community of a renewable energy generator with low operational and maintenance costs?   These partners could help address global warming at the local level by buying shares in such a facility.  The partners would also be supporting a facility that serves as an educational tourist attraction in our downtown.

Could local non-profit organizations such as Memorial and St Joseph Hospitals and Madison Center, all of which are large consumers of electricity, become these partners in an arrangement of syndicated capital? Surely there is an environmentally-minded trustee at Notre Dame who, recognizing the deleterious effects on our community of the University’s coal-fired power plant, could elicit financial support from that entity.

I think the city is ready to proceed with this project if help with funding can be found. If you know of anyone I can contact, please let me know.

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