Lighting system could save Chattanooga $1.5 million

photo Robert Edwards, right, and Jim Meyer of Ace Electric install decorative post lights at Coolidge Park that use energy-efficient induction lights controlled by radio transmitters. Those lights and new LED lights are designed and manufactured by Global Green Lighting in Soddy-Daisy.

Chattanooga could shave $1.5 million a year from its $11.4 million electric bill by expanding the new lighting system at Coolidge Park to the rest of the city, according to a city energy audit.

And Chicago Housing Authority has spent $5,560 per public housing unit to retrofit the apartments for energy efficiency but saved $70 million in energy costs to date, said David Anderson, energy manager for the Chicago Housing Authority.

Those are just two messages from some of the participants in a Sister City and Ecologic Institute conference Wednesday about local initiatives in climate protection and renewable energies.

Environment is green in more ways than one, they concluded.

Aside from savings found by looking at energy efficiency, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield told the group that the city's newest jobs are coming from companies plugged into environmental concerns and energy efficiency -- companies such as Alstom, maker of wind towers, and Wacker, a maker of polysilicon, a component of solar panels.

Additionally, Littlefield touted VW's reason for locating here: "the intangibles" that included Chattanooga's cleaning up its air, reinventing its waterfront and building the Tennessee Riverwalk.

"In the '80s, we began to dream big dreams," Littlefield told the group, whose participants were from Germany, Chattanooga and other American cities. "We were building our free electric shuttles long before other cities got interested."

But the conference attendees also focused on some of the barriers, including politics.

"We have our fringe groups," Littlefield said. "They have chastised me for signing the Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement. They said, 'Do you know what you've done? We won't be able to drive our cars or run our air conditioners.' Beware of the fearmongers."

Littlefield said Chattanooga has heard fearmongers before but overcame them.

In the 1980s, when the city began to look at more environmental issues after cleaning up its air, city officials were warned by some in the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce "not to talk about the environment," Littlefield said.

"They said it would scare industries away," he recalled, noting they said the smog around Chattanooga "smelled like money."

"It smelled like disaster to us," Littlefield said.