As of summer 2021, the City of South Bend has added 43.4 kW of solar capacity to its facilities, reducing reliance on the utility grid. The 23 kW system on the convention center saved an estimated $96,000 in its first year of operation, saving 1.17 MWh—equivalent to removing 95 homes from the grid. It performed 14 percent above the guaranteed production from the solar contractor.
The two fire stations became LEED certified buildings. Fire Station 4 earned LEED Gold designation and Fire Station 9 received a LEED Silver designation.
Maintenance costs of the systems are minimal. The City occasionally needs to wash the panels to maximize their energy production. Since all three projects had newly installed roofs, the City does not expect any costs associated with removing the panels for roof replacements anytime soon. In fact, staff expect that the solar installations will extend the life of the roof located underneath the panels, minimizing the maintenance cost of the roof.
These projects presented a few challenges along the way. First, the City had to dispel the common misconception that solar is not viable in South Bend. Secondly, once the projects were finished, staff had to display educational materials because the systems were not visible from street level. The City’s final challenge is that the payback period for municipalities is much longer than a residential or commercial system. Since municipalities have lower electricity rates and cannot take advantage of the federal tax credit or state property tax exemptions, the fire station systems will take 15-20 years to pay for themselves. Since the Century Center system was grant-funded, it is already saving the City money.