Hamilton County's EPB and green|spaces were among 11 organizations from across the state recognized in the 2016 Governor's Environmental Stewardship Awards announced Wednesday.
EPB won in the energy and renewable resources division for its Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal certification that has streamlined operations at the city-owned utility, while green|spaces was honored in the environmental education and outreach category for its Empower Chattanooga program that is helping low-income Chattanoogans cut utility costs.
The awards are given annually and recognize groups that improve or protect the environment and natural resources with projects not required by law or regulation. The winners will be recognized June 15 in a Nashville ceremony.
"We always want to bring attention to Chattanooga because there are a lot of great things happening here," said Elizabeth Hammitt, EPB director of environmental stewardship and community. "This is the highest honor when it comes to the environment that you can win in Tennessee, and it's another nice feather in the cap for Chattanooga."
EPB became the first major utility to achieve PEER certification when the U.S. Green Building Council recognized it with the distinction in January for its smart grid. The smart grid allows EPB to better monitor its power grid, detect customer problems earlier and keep costs low.
Smart meters installed on all homes within EPB's 600-square-mile territory have also allowed the utility's trucks to drive 419,877 fewer miles annually, according to a state news release announcing Wednesday's awards.
"EPB continues to be a national leader through its development of an increasingly resilient and renewable-friendly grid," the release said.
The Empower Chattanooga program by local nonprofit environmental group green|spaces offers free monthly workshops that provide resources to low-income city residents about how to cut utility costs. The program brings an average savings of 10-17 percent on each utility bill for participants.
Empower exists in East Chattanooga, Avondale, Highland Park, Ridgedale, East Lake, and green|spaces Director Michael Walton said the organization is eyeing an expansion for the program into Alton Park if it can get enough funding.
"Green|spaces is a nonprofit, but a lot of people don't think about us when it comes to personal giving," Walton said. "The most innovative and maybe even radical thing that we did with Empower is listening. The whole program is built on the engagement with residents in the neighborhood, and that's what's allowed it to be so effective in such a short amount of time."
A panel of 24 agricultural, conservation, forestry, environmental and academic professionals judged more than 85 nominations and selected the award recipients.
Other recipients of the Governor's award were Belmont University, the Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, Emmett Elementary School in Sullivan County, The Jackson Walk in Madison County, Sevier Solid Waste Inc. in Sevier County, the Tennessee Environmental Council, Sharp Transport in Lawrence County, the Music City Center in Davidson County and Lipscomb Academy Elementary in Davidson County.
"It is important that we pause to recognize the people and organizations that work so hard to protect our environment while teaching others about sustainability," Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau said in a release. "These winning efforts will help pave the way for future ideas on how we can further protect our natural resources."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at email@example.com or 423-757-6249.