EPB efficiency program cuts energy use for 400 Tennessee Valley low-income homes

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / TVA EnergyRight Solution Senior Manager Frank Rapley talks about the program, as homeowner Eleanor Young, at right, looks on. Eleanor Young's Riverside home became the 400th renovation in the Electric Power Board and the Tennessee Valley Authority's Home Uplift Program.

Living on a fixed-income with her 26-year-old son who has Sickle cell anemia, Eleanor Young said she often struggled to keep her 980-square-foot home warm for her son while paying monthly electric bills that usually totaled more than $150 a month.

When she heard from a neighbor about a program to make her home more energy efficient, she jumped at the chance. With funding from the Tennessee Valley Authority and the advice of EPB's Energy Pros, Young's house was resealed and upgraded with a new heating and air conditioning system and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to not only cut her monthly light bill but also improve the air quality and safety of her 71-year-old house.

Young's house on Delano Drive, which was built in 1950 and previously lacked adequate insulation or modern HVAC equipment, was the 400th home to undergo the energy upgrades as a part of EPB's Home Uplift program.

"This program has really helped me out a lot," Young said Wednesday during a celebration of the Home Uplift milestone. "Previously, I had sky-high electricity bills because my son and I were using portable space heaters and air conditioning window units. My power bill has decreased; the insulation is making a huge difference in helping the house stay warmer; my air is better, and I have more peace of mind now because I don't have to worry about how I'm going to pay a really high power bill."

Chattanooga is one of 49 local power companies in the Tennessee Valley providing the Home Uplift program to qualified homeowners with incomes of no more than 200% of the federal poverty level and in houses needing energy upgrades. Since 2018, TVA has pledged $13.8 million to pay for energy improvements, which average $8,000 per house.

EPB Energy Pros, who regularly provide energy audits and inspections, help assess and direct the energy improvements and TVA pays for the equipment and installation. On average, the upgrades cut energy use by at least 30%, according to EPB Energy Pro Jason Eldridge who helped oversee the upgrades at Young's house.

Although the Home Uplift program typically cuts EPB electricity consumption and sales, EPB and TVA officials said it helps fulfill its public service role and not the bottom line of the utilities.

photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Homeowner Eleanor Young talks about how the Home Uplift program has improved her family's quality of life. Eleanor Young's Riverside home became the 400th renovation in the Electric Power Board and the Tennessee Valley Authority's Home Uplift Program.

"It's our mission at EPB to improve the quality of life for the people we serve and Home Uplift is one of our programs that really speaks to that mission," said Elizabeth Hammitt, director of residential energy and environmental solutions for EPB.

Hammitt said EPB has used its smart grid to target the areas of Chattanooga with the highest energy use which are typically in lower-income neighborhoods where the housing stock is older and residents have less disposable income to make energy upgrades.

Even though TVA electricity rates average about 10% less than the U.S. average, many residents in the region have some of the highest energy burdens in the country, paying sometimes 30% or more of their income on electricity and other utility bills.

Environmental groups contend that TVA and its local power utilities are doing less than most other utilities to promote energy efficiency, noting that TVA limited some of the loan programs and incentives it once offered to homeowners to buy more energy-efficient heat pumps and other appliances. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said TVA ranks near the bottom among electric utilities in the Southeast for energy efficiency and provided less than 3% as much aid for energy efficiency as the U.S. average in 2019. Only Alabama Power ranks lower in the region.

But TVA officials insist the federal utility is targeting its assistance to those who need it most while setting up programs to facilitate those wanting to make their own energy efficiency upgrades or generate their own power with renewable sources. EPB also offers free energy audits and its Energy Pros to help individuals and businesses decide on appropriate energy efficiency measures and equipment to buy.

EPB helped pilot one of the first efficiency programs in the Tennessee Valley targeted at low-income neighborhoods with high energy use. With initial assistance from the Lyndhurst, Benwood and Footprint foundations, EPB worked with the nonprofit environmental group green/spaces to establish the Empower program,, targeting low-income communities with higher-than-average energy usage. That initial program with 14 homes has grown into the Home Uplift program across TVA's 7-state region.

TVA EnergyRight Solution Senior Manager Frank Rapley said TVA has already made energy upgrades at 1,700 houses in the Valley through Home Uplift and TVA plans to pay for upgrades at another 1,000 homes by the end of September.

Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has allocated $3 million - or $750,000 each to the local power companies to expand Home Uplift programs in Tennessee's major cities of Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Home Uplift helps reduce that energy burden for many. The typical home in the program saves 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, cutting annual energy costs by about $500 per home per year. But to achieve those savings, TVA allocates an average of $8,000 per home for the improvements.

Beyond the energy savings, the program also has helped improve the air quality and health of those living in the renovated homes. Hammitt said 60% of those who live in houses upgraded by the Home Uplift program report better health after the improvements were made.

By replacing aging insulation and better sealing homes from possible mold or mildew in attics and basements, air quality is often improved in the upgraded homes. Rapley said TVA has contracted with Three Cubed to do a health study on the impacts of the Home Uplift program.

"There are definite health advantages, as well as economic, for the homeowners in this program," Rapley said. "TVA was formed more than 80 years ago to help uplift the people of the Tennessee Valley and this is just the next chapter of that work."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.