More hydroelectric potential for South Bend

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

A hydroelectric turbine purchased in the 1980s has finally been installed in Setiz Park and will soon be cranking out energy savings of around $40,000 a year for the city. That might just be the tip of the iceberg for hydroelectric power in South Bend.

“South Bend has a rich history of hydropower,” says Jon Burke the Municipal Energy Director. “The early industry along the East Race was powered along the East Race with hydropower and it has been a long time since we have actually utilized hydropower along the river here in South Bend. So this is step one in the process to get the small turbine in.”

Step two is a little larger and like the original turbine it was started back in the early 80s.

“Around the same time the Fish Ladder was built the city had the foresight to secure and exemption from the federal energy regulatory commission that allows the city to build a 1.7 megawatt unit, right here along the Seitz Park area,” explains Burke.

That is about 27 times larger than the recently installed unit, and the means a lot more power.

“That is a utility scale hydro installation and that will produce enough power potential to power the cities 10 largest buildings,” says Burke. “It is worth about a million dollars a year to the city in energy costs. So my hope is that this being step one that we can find a way as a city to move to step two and build this larger facility.”

“I see great potential in expanding on this great experiment,” says Mayor Pete Butigieg. “We have this turbine here. It is enough to power a few buildings, a no brainer for the city. Taking it to the next level could mean a million dollars a year and good clean energy. We have got this great river, there just aren't a lot of cities that have a river running through the middle of them and have this opportunity with the regulatory exemptions, so we have to pull together some money before we can make it happen but if we get it right we are going to make that money back for the city and I am very excited about the potential to do it.”

As for the price tag of making it power multiple buildings.

“It is going to take some creativity,” says Burke. “It is in the neighborhood of a $15 million project, so we have to be creative to figure out a business model that works. But it is something that I really feel that we have to do.”

“Once we have the funding together it takes two to three years to actually make it happen,” says Mayor Butigieg. “There are a lot of bits and pieces when you get into utilities, it gets unbelievably complicated. So we have got to make sure we can do it right. There is a feasibility study going on right now, funds were committed to that. That is helping us charge away forward. I tell yeah, it can't come soon enough, based on what we are already seeing with this small hydro project.”

Original plans for the project place the facility over Setiz Park. Burke says they would remove the park, and then rebuild the park on top of the turbines. While a majority of the facility would be underground, the original plans did call for a walkway that would allow the public to view the turbines on one side and the Fish Ladder on the other side.

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