Energy week to put focus on efficiency, cost savings

Past the "hippie talk" of sustainability and green and climate change and complicated calculations of environmentalism, the South Bend Municipal Energy Office's first Energy Week next month focuses on something everybody understands.

"Making $ense of Energy," Sept. 24-29, plugs the payback and payoff of slashing energy use for businesses, homeowners and governments, says organizer Jonathon Geels, the department's project specialist.

A highlight of the week will be a green ribbon-cutting in Seitz Park on Sept. 26 to highlight the installation of a 62.9-kilowatt turbine in the East Race that will power the Howard Park lights, building and ice rink at a savings of $40,000 per year.

Officials expect to install the turbine, the first use of the St. Joseph River for power generation in nearly 100 years, this month and have data to report at the ribbon-cutting.

That event, including a Mayor's Day Out, will highlight the city's energy policies and successful projects with a Green Energy Expo.

Among other things, replacement leading at gyms means no warm-up needed, so the lights can be switched on only as need. The more efficient system is so much brighter that it revealed the previously shadowed need for a new paint job at one gym, Geels says.

Likewise, the new lights in the carpentry shop have boosted productivity.

"They couldn't tell what kind of wood they were working on, the light was so yellow," Geels says. "Now it's much more like daylight in there. It makes it easier for them to do their work."

Other days, after a Monday kickoff with the movie "Carbon Nation," include a Building Efficiency Expo on Tuesday, a Transportation Expo on Thursday, a Health and Sustainability Expo on Friday and a Community Energy Day on Saturday with a Technology Expo and a Future of Energy panel.

The event, in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame (cSEND), includes on-campus events and opportunities for students to visit South Bend examples of sustainability such as Union Station, Transpo and the Kroc Center.

"The whole week is going to have events and classes," says Geels, adding that some 100 experts will participate in the expos. "The Energy Office has several focuses on energy conservation measures and our strategic energy plan.

"We wanted a way that we could bring those various measures to everyone -- the public and the rest of the city employees as well -- so it presents an easier-to-understand, simple-step version than what you typically get with energy."

The office's Web page for the event,, grabs readers with the opening line: "Could you use an extra $800? On average, Americans could save 40 percent on their utility bills through simple energy efficiency measures."

"More often than not, people talk about energy and it's overwhelming," Geels says. "There's a measurable economic benefit to energy upgrades. It's easy to understand...

"You walk away and say, 'Why aren't we doing this? It makes a ton of sense.' "