On August 17th 2011, fifty Indiana farmers from 35 Indiana counties were honored for their outstanding conservation best management practices at the 2011 River Friendly Farmer Awards Ceremony. The recognition took place on Farmers Day at the Indiana State fair.  Happily, two farmers from our own St Joseph county and Kankakee River Watershed were among the honorees.  They are Mike Burkholder and John Dooms.

Mike Burkholder is a corn and soybean farmer in the Kankakee River Watershed. The Aldridge Ditch runs through the property. Filter strips are in place along the ditch to prevent run-off from reaching the open water and filter excess sediment and nutrients as well. Burkholder has no-tilled farmed for over 10 years now. The results are stronger soil structure and health, as well as kept residue on the soil surface, all of which help prevent erosion and filter water maintaining a high water quality on his fields.

John Dooms has a grain and dairy operation with a corn and soybean rotation, as well as alfalfa and hay. The farm has been no-tilled since the 70’s and uses low-pressure conservative irrigation on 400 of the approximately 800 acres of crops. It is located in the Kankakee River Watershed. Grass filter strips are along side the ditch on the farm to prevent runoff entering the watershed. Where filter strips are not in place, the field has a buffer zone of non-worked ground between the crop and ditch allowing room for sprayers and other equipment to keep from polluting the water directly. Practicing no-till farming also promotes higher water quality as residue matter and improved soil structures help prevent erosion and filters water of pollutants. John also uses a nutrient management system that helps him manage the quantity of potential pollutants that could reach the watershed.

Thank you to both of these farmers for working to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

A complete list of all 50 honorees can be found with the St Joseph County Soil and Water Conservation District.


Moving South Bend Towards a Sustainable Future

In response to the City’s Green Ribbon Commission as well as South Bend’s commitment to reduce energy consumption and to look for alternative sources of energy, the City of South Bend hired Jonathan Burke to the newly created position of Municipal Energy Director.  A native of Michigan, Mr. Burke worked for 28 years building sustainable buildings and managing property in Maryland. There he advanced many initiatives to promote sustainable building management in the areas of energy use and equipment optimization.  Mr. Burke, whose position is funded by a portion of a federal sustainability grant awarded to the City, began work in September of 2010.  In an effort to determine how the City can save money by way of reducing its energy use, he has been tirelessly “kicking the tires and looking under the hood” of municipal buildings.  He is also keenly interested in alternative energy sources, including the hydroelectric capacity of the dam at Century Center.  A strong supporter of all things sustainable, Mr. Burke is also working with IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future, the Unity Gardens, the South Bend Community Garden movements and other organizations to help make South Bend the greenest city in Indiana.

A preschooler gets a little help to add his handprint to the SNAP Rain Barrel.

In an effort to raise awareness of water as a natural resource and to connect the schools, business, arts and sustainability communities, 2010-2011 Fellow with IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future, Kathleen Petitjean, enlisted area artists and artist groups to paint twelve, 55-gallon plastic containers, donated by Coca Cola and converted for use as rain barrels.  All the barrels were underwritten by local businesses and organizations. The teachers and therapists from the South Bend Community School Corporation’s Special Needs and Abilities Preschool (SNAP) pooled resources to underwrite a “SNAP” barrel.  Over 70 special needs preschool students and their classroom buddies at Hamilton, Madison and Darden Primary Centers participated in painting the SNAP barrel!

All the barrels were coated with a clear automotive finish donated by Lochmandy Collision Center, Mishawaka and are currently on display at underwriting businesses.  The SNAP barrel will take turns being displayed at Darden, Madison and Hamilton Primary Centers.  Beginning April 25th, all the barrels will be displayed for two weeks in an indoor garden setting donated by Foegley Landscape at the South Bend Museum of Art.  On May 6th, starting at 7:00 p.m. the twelve barrels will be sold at a public auction with the proceeds to be split between IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future and the artists or artist groups. The SNAP program will be the recipient of the SNAP barrel proceeds.  Upon learning that the barrel he was painting would be sold, little Joe asked his teacher, Tracy Greulich, if she would use the money to buy grapes for he and his friends to share at snack-time!

Mark your calendars and plan to attend the Rain Barrel auction on May 6th at 7:00 p.m.; the auction event is free and open to the public.  Groups will be on hand to share information about Rain Barrels and water conservation.  At least two unpainted barrels will also be given away in a free drawing.

Evening wear and garden gloves recommended but not required!

To see all the Original Art Rain Barrels, please go to:


For more information about IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future go to:

To become an underwriter for this event, please contact:


For more information about rain barrels and water conservation, please go to:


This project is being underwritten by:

IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future

St Joseph County Soil and Water Conservation District

South Bend Museum of Art

Barnaby’s South Bend

Beehive Salon

Coca Cola Bottling Company of Indiana

Foegley Landscape

Goodrich Auction Company

Martin’s Supermarket

Lawson-Fisher Associates

Lochmandy Collision Center

Purple Porch Co-op

Red Hen Turf Farm

Teachers and Therapists of the South Bend Community School Corporation’s Special Needs and Abilities Preschool

Troyer Group

Gary Mester, Master Photographer

Acousticom Corporation

Cathy Romano

Bethany Hayes, co-coordinator of the Indiana Green Party and member of the National Women’s Caucus of the GPUS, has secured a place on the ballot for state representative in district 99 in Indiana.  Beth received word from the voter registration office that she had collected more than enough valid signatures to place her name on the ballot (a daunting task for a candidate wishing to run for any office in Indiana on any other ticket than the Democratic, Republican or Libertarian party).  Beth is the first Green Party candidate to obtain ballot access for a state level office. 

Truly an Independence Day gift we can all celebrate.  Whether or not you would vote for a Green Party candidate, the fact that Indiana throws up nearly insurmountable barriers to give voters more than 3 choices should give pause to anyone in a democratic republic.

 Go Beth!


Kathleen and I attended the IURC field hearing on net-metering last Monday evening at the County-City building. Here is my summary.

1. The IURC has failed to change their rules enacted in 2005. The 2005 rules (regulations) were obviously (to me) written by the power industry to limit and control net-metering in Indiana.

2. According to the comments given to the IURC commissioners, it is a no-brainer to change the regulations to provide an economic incentive for individuals, schools, businesses and municipalities to begin net-metering. Many states have improved their economies by allowing for sensible net-metering. The comments were from engineers, electricians, home owners, city officials, state elected officials and people who own and operate businesses providing alternate energy (PV, anaerobic digesters, wind turbine, biomass); these are not wing nuts but practical people. There was even a representative of mall owners/managers asking for net-metering.

3. The state House has passed bipartisan bills since 2005 establishing more reasonable net-metering policies, and they die in the Senate. There is another bi-partisan bill this General Assembly co-sponsored by Ryan Dvorak, state Representative, and supported by John Broden, state Senator. Both spoke at the hearing.

The state Senate is “illiterate about net-metering” according to Rep. Ryan Dvorak. Although Dvorak didn’t say so, I assume key Senate members are deaf to everyone but power industry lobbyists. If the ignorant Senators heard the testimony last night, they would change the legislation immediately based on the evidence. The IURC commissioners after these three field hearings must be very well informed — whether they will change the rules or not is another story.

4. Net-metering is not selling electricity to power companies but earning credit at retail pricing for power generated and used. Surplus energy beyond your own use is not purchased by the power company. There is a power selling framework, but it is not called net-metering. The power selling framework may be FITs (Feed-In Tariffs).


5. The current rules make it financially and politically difficult if not impossible for the City of South Bend to build a hydro-electric plant to generate power for the city’s water treatment plant. Reasonable net-metering regulations would make the hydro-plant a no-brainer. Now, individuals and organizations which generate their own electricity usually don’t net-meter because it is economically impractical to join the grid in Indiana.

Here is how the power industry in Indiana contains net-metering using the IURC rules.

~ No more than a 17kw generator is allowed. According to the IndyStar/Indianapolis Star, the regulatory power generation limit is 10kw/month. A commenter at the South Bend hearing said modern homes use 1000-5000 kw/month.
~ No market area, which for I&M would be southwestern Michigan and northwestern/central Indiana, as a whole can net-meter more than 0.1% of the historical total summer peak power used in that area.
~ No aggregation of meters for the purpose of net-metering.
~ Monthly connection fees, initial installation charges and required equipment costs diminish and lengthen the ROI (return on investment). For instance, power companies frequently require two special meters to measure incoming and outgoing electricity rather than a single meter which is reversible. The single meter is $189 with no special requirements to install. The two-meter installation costs from $1500 to $2500 dollars according to the power company you are dealing with. Both types of meters are manufactured by Seimens.
~ Businesses are excluded from net-metering. Only homes and schools are allowed to net-meter. Power companies can allow businesses to net-meter, but inclusion is solely at the discretion of the power company; otherwise they are excluded.

South Bend’s proposed hydro-electric generator would:

~ generate 250kw and the IURC limit is 10kw;
~ generate 1/3 of the limit for our entire I&M market area;
~ aggregate 9 meters, and the IURC allows just 1 meter;
~ be excluded from net-metering under current rules.

Arguments supporting restrictive rules in Indiana were thoroughly discredited or disproved by testimony at the hearing. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to hear what people and businesses are doing in other states for themselves and their communities and what Indiana citizens and businesses are doing in spite of current regulations, yet I was depressed to think the state Senate and IURC will probably do nothing to encourage net-metering in Indiana.

Here is a informative article from the IndyStar/Indianapolis Star, a fairly conservative news organization.

btw, the audience erupted into applause after my comments to the commissioners. I was stunned but pleased. I believe I said twice during my comments that I represented the SJVGreens so we garnered good PR out of the hearing. There were activists from the central region of Indiana including CAC at the hearing.

Tom Brown
St. Joe Valley Greens

Tonight in South Bend, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission held the third of three state-wide public hearings on net metering.  Currently, Indiana lags far behind the rest of the country in how investor-owned utility companies such as Northern Indiana Public Service Company and Indiana Michigan Power handle renewable energy produced by customers.  For example, in some states customers receive a check from their utility companies for any excess energy they may send to the grid from their home or business’ solar or wind generator.  However, in good old coal-burning Indiana, net metering for renewable energy is limited to a capacity of 10 kilowatts with energy-generating customers receiving a credit at a fraction of what utilities charge customers drawing from the grid.  As we learned from the testimonies tonight, current regulations also allow utilities to charge nebulous “connection” fees to customers with wind or solar generators; as a result, these Hoosiers who are trying to do the right thing by the environment are actually PAYING to send their excess renewable energy to the power companies’ grids, where they in turn sell it at huge mark-up.  Local and international businesses are having a hard time selling their renewable energy products in Indiana due to the poor rate and indeed sometimes negative rate of return. 

(This should come as no surprise from a state that relies on coal for 90% of its power.  The coal industry has such a stranglehold on Indiana it somehow got the state to allow the construction of a monstrous, coal-fired power plant at the front door of Clifty Falls State Park.   The majestic view of the Ohio River beheld by Eleanor Roosevelt while standing on the balcony at the park’s inn now looks over the machinations of the coal-burning industry.  The three ungodly high smoke-stacks loom over the entire park and can be seen for miles in any direction. 

Coal obviously rules Indiana).

Urging the commission to support changes to the state’s net metering regulations, local and state representatives, homeowners, green technology business owners, laborers and representatives from the League of Women Voters, the Green Party, the Sierra Club and IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future pointed out how progressive net metering is good for the environment and the economy. 

Net metering would make South Bend’s installation of the hydro-electric generator on the dam at Century Center an economically feasible venture with an estimated return on investment in half the time without net metering.

Every speaker at tonight’s hearing supported revising net metering regulations in order to encourage businesses, local governments and home owners to invest in renewable energy.   This cross-section of our community thinks it’s an idea whose time has come.  Let’s hope the IURC agrees.

Great news!  The city of South Bend announced today, Earth Day, that a federal grant has been approved for hydro-electric energy on the dam at Century Center!  The grant includes installation of a 45 kilowatt demonstration generator purchased by South Bend over 20 years ago (and gathering dust in some storage facility) as well as funding of a feasibility study for the larger 1.78 megawatt generator.

Mayor Steve Luecke and Director of Public Works, Gary Gilot, made the announcement at today’s unveiling of the Green Ribbon Commission’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy Action Plan.  Many hours of work went into the overall plan by committed volunteer activists, the city, IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future and other organizations.  Extra-large kudos go to Gary, who, when applying for the federal grant, was initially told that the hydro generator’s feasibility study did not fit the grant parameters.  He persevered, though, and with the help of a federal employee in Washington, D.C., managed to get the feasibility study funding after all.  This writer is going to ask Gary for the name and address of the helpful D.C. contact and send a thank you letter for her assistance. 

Go Gary! Go hydro! Go Green!