The University of Notre Dame and the South Bend, Ind., Board of Parks have reached an agreement on a 50-year lease that will enable the university to construct and operate a hydroelectric generation facility on the dam in the St. Joseph River in downtown South Bend.

Construction of the hydro facility, which will be primarily underground, will begin in October. It is expected to be fully operational in early 2019. The university will run transmission lines from the dam to campus to generate about 7 percent of its electrical needs.

The university says the hydro facility is one facet of a campus sustainability plan that is designed to eliminate the use of coal in Notre Dame's power plant by 2020 and cut its carbon footprint by more than half by 2030.

The agreement with the city parks board gives Notre Dame a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission exemption to operate a hydro power facility. The city of South Bend received the exemption in 1984, but has been unable to act upon it because of financial constraints.

In conjunction with the lease, the park’s board also approved a separate agreement in which Notre Dame will pay the city $1 million to restore Seitz Park, which is adjacent to the dam, as well as for ongoing maintenance of the dam through the duration of the lease.

“This is the latest of several recent and mutually productive partnerships between Notre Dame and the city,” says Rev. John I. Jenkins, the university’s president. “We appreciate the park board working with us as we continue implementing our broader sustainability plan.”

Other components in Notre Dame's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint include:

  • Gas turbine technology — The university will install combined cycle combustion gas turbines to produce both electricity and steam. These units will displace older power plant boilers with newer, higher efficiency and lower emissions sources of energy.
  • Geothermal applications — Geothermal systems are being constructed at many sites across campus to support both new and existing campus buildings.
  • Solar energy — Locations on and off campus are potential sites for photovoltaic and thermal solar systems.
  • Heat recovery — Numerous projects are underway or in the planning phases to recover and regenerate energy from existing energy sources, such as the power plant’s condenser water.