published Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Chattanooga Housing Authority extends energy program

The energy savings agreement that left several East Lake Courts residents complaining about high energy bills is about to hit Emma Wheeler Homes.

Pending approval by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials with the Chattanooga Housing Authority will extend its energy services agreement with Honeywell International and install electrical work and energy-saving appliances -- including central heat and air, water heaters, stoves and ranges -- at Emma Wheeler Homes.

If all goes according to schedule, central air conditioning will be installed at Emma Wheeler for the first time by spring, officials said. The 340-unit site was built in the late 1950s.

CHA board members approved the Honeywell agreement at their monthly board meeting Tuesday. The agreement is scheduled to run over the next 14 years.

The deal is expected to result in $10.27 million worth of savings for the Chattanooga Housing Authority, according to the CHA.

"Honeywell did a complete energy analysis of Emma Wheeler that indicated that there could be a lot of energy savings if we implemented the air conditioning and going underground with the electrical grid," said Naveed Minhas, CHA's vice president of development.

CHA officials also said having the energy upgrades allows the agency to lower the energy allowance allocated to residents. Residents are expected to use less energy because they will have more energy efficient-appliances in their homes. Residents are responsible for paying for any use over the allocated utility amount, CHA officials said.

But several East Lake Courts residents said they don't see how the energy savings agreement benefited them. The savings agreement started at East Lake in 2005 and, by 2006, all units had central heat(cqand air. It was the first time East Lake Courts had air conditioning since 1940 when the units were built.

Immediately after the air conditioning was installed, residents started complaining of utility bills higher than their rent. Some residents, who were unemployed, had utility bills topping $200, according to news reports.

"Before we got central air, we didn't have all of the high light bills," said Jesse Lawrence, president of East Lake Courts Resident Council and the CHA's Citywide Resident Advisory Council.

The high bills also are a result of the lack of energy-saving efforts in other parts of the site, she said.

Residents leave doors open with the air conditioner on, but the screen doors have no glass to keep the air from going out, she noted. The windows are not tight enough to hold air in and some residents have doors with gaps at the floor, so outside air seeps underneath, causing more utility use, she said.

"We need windows and the doors need stripping around them," Lawrence said.

CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright said the Honeywell agreement does not cause higher utility bills. CHA gives residents an energy allowance based on the age and size of their apartment and a utility fee is charged when they go over that allowance, she said.

"So if a resident lives within the allowance, then they won't have higher bills," she said.

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about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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