- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Working behind the scenes and without a budget, members of the city’s Municipal Energy Office, including Director Jonathan Burke, have managed to accomplish quite a bit in three years.

Among other things, the office has helped upgrade the lighting system in the three city-owned parking garages; refurbished an old hydro-electric generator at Seitz Park; and retrofitted four trash trucks and four school buses to run on alternative fuels.

All told, the office, which consists of Burke, one full-time staff member and one contract employee, has helped facilitate more than 30 energy projects in the community, resulting in about $17 million in executed and anticipated energy savings through 2021.

Not that it hasn’t been a challenge, Burke told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1ealT3w ).

“I have to be a kind of MacGyver,” he said, referring to the resourceful TV character with a knack for getting out of tight spots. “I’ve got to figure out ways to get things done without a lot of resources.”

Burke, an East Coast native, has led the office since its creation under then-mayor Stephen Luecke in September 2010.

Initially, the office was funded with about $250,000 in federal stimulus money, which covered the first two years of operation. Since then, it has produced enough in annual energy savings to fund itself.

The goal of the office is to make a positive impact on energy consumption in the community by focusing on several key components, including renewable energy, building efficiency, transportation efficiency and innovation, municipal regulation and recycling and waste management.

In upgrading to LED lights in the three city-owned parking garages downtown, the energy office managed to secure about $95,000 in grant money from Energizing Indiana to help pay for the $225,000 project.

The new lights are expected to save about $92,000 per year in energy costs, for a full return on investment in about 19 months.

The hydroelectric generator at Seitz Park, meanwhile, is expected to provide enough energy to power the lights along the East Race as well as the Howard Park Recreation Center and Ice Rink once it begins operating at full capacity.

As for the propane school buses, Burke and others in the energy office worked with South Bend schools to secure a $76,606 grant to help pay for the vehicles, which cost a total of $409,000.

Not only do the propane buses cost about half as much to fill up as the corporation’s diesel buses, but they produce fewer emissions, Burke said, making them safer for the environment and students.

Long term, the city plans to convert 65 percent of its own fleet to compressed natural gas, Burke said, transferring 565,000 gallons of liquid fuel to CNG over five years and saving about 22 percent on fuel costs.

“The great thing about the energy office is that it makes our city greener and more cost-effective at the same time,” Mayor Pete Buttigieg said. “Their work has helped us become an advanced city in green technology, while also saving taxpayer funds through efficiency.”

The office’s next big project involves working with Century Center to select a performance contractor to audit the convention center’s energy usage and suggest savings opportunities, Burke said.

Century Center’s last two performance contacts netted about $2 million in savings based on about $1.1 million in investment, Director of Operations Scott Herczeg said.

Herczeg said he anticipates similar savings this time around.

“The Century Center opened in 1977, and there are still a lot of systems and equipment in the building that have been in service since then and really need to be upgraded or replaced,” Herczeg said.

Herczeg said Burke and the energy office have been “extremely helpful” this time around.

“They’re part of the team that we need to have on-board to do this a third time,” he said. “Jon can provide, and his office can provide, utility profiles, if you will, that show the last couple years (of energy usage) so we see what the trends are, and real-time profiling so we see how it compares to weather.”

Burke said the energy office also is pursuing a grant opportunity to develop a small solar project on top of Century Center. The grant is worth about $50,000.

Beyond that, he said, the city is exploring the possibility of harnessing the power of the river as it flows over the dam downtown to generate electricity. He said the city has an exclusive right to develop energy at that spot but has not yet acted on it.

He also would like to improve building standards in the city, he said, so that new structures are more energy efficient.

Burke said he sees those and other energy projects as investments in the city’s future.

“The way I look at it is, you’re going to spend money one way or another,” he said. “Either you’re going to give it to the utility companies or invest it in your buildings. Either way you’re going to spend those dollars.”


Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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