Renewable energy in South Bend's future?

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- The City of South Bend is looking to go greener with its energy and both residents and I&M are on board. However, they do have their differences.

The Sierra Club and other residents are pushing for the resolution so the city will have more renewable energy resources like solar panels and wind turbine energy, instead of using coal. The group also wants I&M to shut down its Rockport energy plant in the very southern point of Indiana; a plant the Sierra Club says is the 2nd most toxic plant in the state.

"It needs to be phased out," Reynaldo Hernandez of South Bend said. "Renewables is the way to go. The technology is there. The need is there. There is no reason to wait. We say renewables now."

And I&M doesn't disagree.

"We're ready to support a resolution that furthers that partnership between us and our customers and the City of South Bend," Brian Bergsma, Director of Corporate Communications and Government Affairs for I&M said. "We need to look at the cost to our customers and we think that's equally important."

And while both sides can't agree on a timetable, Bergsma says I&M is already trying to lower its coal usage.

"We closed about 1,000 megawatts which is quite a bit of power that was coal fired just in the last year," Bergsma said.

For reference, I&M says they closed 1,000 megawatts per hour. So that amount of energy would power more than half a million average homes for one year according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But for residents, that's still not good enough.

"To me, coal is a very backwards way of doing things," Stephen Fountain of South Bend said. "It's harmful. It harms the people that live there."

"It's important to everybody," Lisa Harris of South Bend said. "Clean energy is something we need to move towards because coal and other petroleum products aren't limitless and they aren't providing a good environment to us for future generations."

"The conversion to renewables will eventually become necessary," Hernandez said. "But we're not satisfied with eventually. What we want is as soon as possible."

Both sides will have an opportunity to share their feelings at a Council meeting on July 13th.

"In order to find that balance, you need to have everyone at the table," Oliver Davis, Council member for the 6th District said. "If you don't have I&M at the table and you don't have the Sierra Club at the table, you may not find the balance. Somewhere in the middle of this ball we'll find the vision statement for the City of South Bend."

Renewable energy is something I&M is extremely interested in. They're looking to have enough renewable energy to power 400,000 homes in South Bend within the next 20 years. After the July 13 meeting, the Common Council will vote on the resolution on July 25. If it passes, the resolution will basically suggest to I&M that they should explore alternative energy sources besides coal in our area. However, it will not force them to do anything.