Notre Dame looking to dam for power

Author: Erin Blasko, South Bend Tribune

Posted originally in the South Bend Tribune on Monday, June 22, 2015 6:00 am | Updated: 7:10 am, Mon Jun 22, 2015.

SOUTH BEND — A proposed partnership between the city and the University of Notre Dame could yield a new hydroelectric facility here for the first time in more than a century.

Dennis Brown, assistant vice president of communications for the university, declined to comment on the project last week, and the city has yet to offer many details.

But public documents on file with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reveal the proposed scope of the project and the timeline for construction.

According to the documents, the university would construct a 1.83 megawatt facility on the city-owned dam downtown starting next year, with completion in 2019.

Power from the facility would be conveyed to campus by way of an underground transmission line, a distance of about 1.5 miles.

The facility would power the equivalent of about 900 homes.

Documents show the Finance Committee of the school’s Board of Trustees approved a request to further evaluate the project in January.

The school has since hired local and out-of-state consultants, including Lawson-Fisher Associates, of South Bend, to perform the work.

Documents show the project would not provide a return on investment for the university.

However, it would reduce campus carbon emissions, increase electric reliability, fix a portion of campus utility costs, provide academic research opportunities and create strong partnerships with local governments.

The estimated cost of the project is not clear.

Also unclear is whether the university would pay the city for use of the dam.

The university currently operates its own on-campus power plant and purchases additional, outside power from Indiana Michigan Power.

The Board of Public Works will consider a resolution Tuesday expressing support for the project in partnership with Notre Dame.

Therese Dorau, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability, said she expects the university will have more to say about the project at that time.

“For Notre Dame to put money on the table to start considering this, they want to make sure the city is open to this,” city engineer Patrick Corbitt Kerr said during a meeting Thursday.

The city received a federal exemption for a small hydro facility — less than 10 megawatts — on the dam in 1984 but has yet to act on it.

Conversations with the university began in May of last year, documents show, after the city learned it risked losing the exemption as a result of continued inaction.

In order to pursue the project, the university will need to take possession of the exemption by federal consent.

The particulars of the deal, as well as the broader partnership, will be outlined in a future memorandum of understanding.

This is not the first time the city has attempted to harness the power of the dam for energy purposes.

The city installed a small, 45-kilowatt turbine at Seitz Park, on the east side of the dam, in 2012, but it is not yet operational.

The turbine, which had been in storage since 1983, is intended to power a portion of the electrical needs of the park.

“The turbine is operational from a technical standpoint, however, there is still some final testing and I&M requirements to be completed before it can be regularly generating energy,” Dorau said in an email.

The new turbine or turbines would be much larger in scale, though still small relative to conventional power facilities.

Speaking on behalf of the various stakeholders, Board of Public Works member Gary Gilot, the city’s former Public Works director, recently endorsed the project.

“Everybody would love to see this project if it’s economically viable,” he said.