Notre Dame officially dedicates 2.5 MW hydropower plant

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., has officially dedicated its 2.5 MW small hydropower plant on the St. Joseph River.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the facility was held in 2019. Work concluded and the facility was commissioned in May 2022.

The plant is located at Seitz Park, at an existing dam owned by the city of South Bend. It is a primarily underground facility. Voith Hydro supplied its StreamDiver turbines for this project. Based on the characteristics of the site, including the flow of the river and the height of the dam a 10-turbine system was designed.

Per an agreement signed in 2016, the university will lease the site for 50 years. In exchange for the lease, the university agreed to contribute $1 million toward the restoration of the park. The university also helped to rebuild a seawall for the park and designed the facility to accommodate an overlook at the park.

Indiana Michigan Power worked working collaboratively with Notre Dame on a joint transmission line route that consolidated two infrastructure projects and followed a path around downtown that had been envisioned initially by Notre Dame to bring the power of the hydroelectric facility to its campus.

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The idea of restoring the dam to its original use as a source of hydroelectric power dates back to at least 1980, when South Bend applied for and received a license exemption from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to develop and operate a hydro facility at Seitz Park. The plan was for a small-scale facility to power nearby Howard Park or supplement the grid. But the combination of low global energy prices and an unfavorable regulatory environment for green energy projects in Indiana ultimately doomed the project. At risk of losing the license exemption for lack of use, the city transferred it to Notre Dame in 2016.

As part of the original license exemption, a requirement was to preserve first water rights for the existing assets there. The agreement preserved the flow of water to the east and west raceways and over the dam. It also preserved the flow of water to the fish ladder at Seitz Park, which is critical moving salmon and trout downstream and upstream from Lake Michigan to the Bodine State Fish Hatchery in Mishawaka.

The university hopes to use the facility for education and research, such as biology students partnering with the Department of Natural Resources on a fish study.

Notre Dame renewed its commitment to reduce the university’s carbon emissions in 2015, said Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. In the past several years, Notre Dame has added solar and geothermal heating and cooling to its energy mix, transitioned from coal to natural gas as the primary source of fuel for campus, launched a food-to-energy program and collaborated with local partners to reduce food waste and support food programs in the South Bend area.

 “Today we move another step closer to our sustainability goals with construction of this facility. We are grateful to the city of South Bend and all of our partners who are helping us harness the power of the St. Joseph River to bring clean, renewable energy to Notre Dame,” he said.

The facility is expected to produce about 7% of the electricity for campus and offset about 9,700 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Recently, Father Jenkins outlined even more ambitious climate goals for the university moving forward. “The use of more geothermal, large-scale solar arrays, hydroelectricity, recovered energy, conservation and other emerging technologies and fuel sources will hopefully get us to a 65 percent reduction in CO2 by 2030, and to zero net neutral carbon emissions 20 years later,” he said.

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Author: Elizabeth Ingram

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