Things Continue to Move in a Positive Direction for Hydro Power

in South Bend

On September 15th, 2008, this writer organized a meeting with Gary Gilot, City of South Bend Public Works Director; Mike Keen, Director of IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future; Steve Francis, Member of the Sierra Club State Executive Committee; Kerry Temple, Editor, Notre Dame Magazine; Jim Mazurek, Notre Dame Director of Sustainability; and herself at Gary’s office at the County City Building in South Bend. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate efforts to bringing hydroelectric power to South Bend.

I presented my 3 minute narrated slide show “The Sustaining Waters of the Sagwa” depicting the history of the St Joe River, South Bend’s use of the river for mill and hydroelectric power and the proposed hydroelectric project on the dam at Century Center.

Gary Gilot then gave an overview of the city’s commitment to enhance environmental stewardship and reduce energy use and carbon emissions. He noted the partnership with Notre Dame and the city’s greenhouse to house computers to capture heat and avoid the air conditioning power load for cooling computers. Gary acknowledged more needed to be done and he gave an overview of the potential customers for hydro power. The best economic scenario for the city would be to have one end-user for hydro power. The city has spoken to representatives from Memorial Hospital and Notre Dame, introducing this topic and seeking interest to share hydroelectric facility construction costs and benefits. Notre Dame could be an end user in synergy with water or the wastewater treatment facility. In order for this to happen, the first step would be for the 1980’s Lawson-Fisher feasibility study to be updated. The city would like to secure interest from a partner willing to help fund the feasibility study as well as the facility’s construction. Gary estimated the current cost to build project may be close to $12 million. He also discussed the proposed 50KW demonstration generator, which could be used to power the lights on the East Race (a small $75,000 pilot project).

In response to Kerry asking Jim Mazurek about Notre Dame’s potential interest in the hydro projects, Jim noted ND is committed to address carbon reduction through multi-year projects, including increasing energy efficiency/retrofitting buildings on campus, considering renewable energy credits and considering partnering/funding green energy projects in return for carbon attributes. ND currently generates 70% of their own electricity, purchasing the remaining 30% from AEP. Discussion with ND officials for partnering with South Bend on hydro power is about one month out.

In response to Gary’s concern about the aesthetics of a power generator (John Fisher has asserted the plant would not be visible from the Century Center), Mike Keen suggested the plant could be designed as a museum for visitors, perhaps in partnership with the Children’s Museum. The city would need to educate the public on the energy savings and the reduction in carbon emissions with a project like this.

Steve Francis noted this project could be an important step in bringing South Bend in compliance with the Cool Cities pact to address carbon emissions. He noted hydro power could be part of an organization’s (such as ND) renewable energy portfolio. He noted ND operates the only coal-fired power plant within a 300-mile radius.

This writer expressed the interest members of the community have demonstrated for the viewing chamber to remain part of the project.

Gary noted the feasibility study would have the costs for viewing chamber factored separately.

This writer then asked Gary about possibly funding the project through an optional “green energy up-charge” on resident’s water bills.

Gary reported he would explore this possibility with the city’s legal department. He also noted there are “certificates of participation” available in Indiana for businesses and corporations that may help with funding as well as potential grants or underwriters for the viewing chamber portion of the project.

Kerry noted he has experience with writing grants and would be willing to partner with the viewing chamber part of the project.

Mike noted the first step is to bring partners to the table willing to share in the cost of updated feasibility study.

Gary discussed the need to speak to/form a committee with Paul Kempf, Director of ND utilities and others regarding the options for the possible site points for the energy from a hydro generator (Studebaker corridor for nanotechnology MIND renewable power source/Leeper Park Water Works North Pumping Station, the wastewater treatment plant on Riverside or Notre Dame power transmission/distribution grid, etc.)

Watch this site for further developments!