Hydroelectric turbine saving South Bend on electric costs

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

Better late than never, a hydroelectric turbine purchased in the early 80's, was finally installed in Downtown South Bend. Now this new installation will soon be saving money for the city.

After sitting since 1983, in a warehouse, this bright blue turbine has found it's home.

“We took it out of storage in early 2011, refurbished the unit,” says Jon Burke the Municipal Energy Director “It is exciting to stand here now and know that, the turbine is down in this pin stock right now and it is going to be working for the city very soon.”

The turbine was installed along the fish ladder in Seitz Park, while it is in place there is still a good deal of work that must be done.

“There are a lot of little bugs we need to work out,” says Burke. “We will start up the commissioning system over the next two to three weeks and provided we don't run into anymore unknowns we have had plenty of those so far.”

While some of the bugs have slowed the project, some have actually been a good thing.

“Originally the paper work on the turbine called it a 45 kilowatt unit,” explains Burke. “When we took the turbine in to have it refurbished we discovered it was a 62.9 kilowatt unit, which is significantly more power. That lead us to have to redesign a number of things with our distribution network and our arrangement with I&M we had to upgrade the capacity of this unit.”

That power will be put to good use in Howard Park, powering the Human Rights Building, the ice rink, the rec center and even the lights along the East Race and there will still be some left over.

“We are going to produce about 100,000 kilowatt hours a year more than we are going to need,” says Burke. “We are doing what is called a net-metering agreement with Indiana Michigan Power. And the net-metering agreement allows us to put energy directly into the grid or use it in our facility either way. At times when we are producing more energy than we need that extra energy will go into the grid and we will be credited for that energy. At times when we are using more energy than we are actually producing, we will be drawing down the credits in the grid.”

That agreement will allow the city to use every drop of energy and stack up some serious savings.

“That is worth about $40,000 a year to the city,” explains Burke.

So you might be wondering what this cost the city. Total installation costs were around $268,000. A federal grant covered all but $26,000; a cost that John says will be recouped in six to seven months from the use of the turbine.

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