Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / James Mathis, right, speaks with Mayor Andy Berke at Mathis's home on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Through EPB's Home Energy Upgrade program, Mathis's home was equipped with new insulation and a new HVAC unit to help make it more energy efficient.

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Home energy upgrades

James Mathis was regularly paying more than $250 a month for electricity to heat and cool his 960-square-foot home and struggling to keep his air conditioning unit running last year when he heard about EPB's energy efficiency program for low-income households.

As a 73-year-old retired security officer and Air Force veteran, Mathis found out he qualified for financial assistance for the energy upgrade to his East Chattanooga home. Within a few days of calling, EPB conducted an energy audit of his home and work crews replaced his HVAC system and installed an energy-efficient door, windows and LED lights to reduce his electricity consumption.

"It was a tremendous blessing for me," said Mathis, who has cut his monthly power bill by about $100 every month with the improvements. "I can pay extra bills now and have a little extra money in my pocket."

Mathis is among 165 homeowners in Chattanooga who have benefited over the past three years from EPB's Home Energy Upgrade program. On Tuesday, EPB announced that it will use financial support from the Tennessee Valley Authority and local foundations to provide energy upgrades for another 92 Chattanooga homes this year.

TVA is giving $1 million grants over the next two years to each of its five biggest local power companies in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Huntsville and Chattanooga to support local programs that improve the energy efficiency of low-income households.

In Memphis, the "Share the Pennies" campaign by Memphis Light Gas and Water will help weatherize 400 homes in 18 months at no cost to the homeowner. In Knoxville, KUB has launched Home Uplift to support the utility's Round It Up campaign to provide weatherization for several hundred homes.

TVA also supports Energy Right audits for all residential and commercial customers. But the cost of implementing the recommended improvements from such audits, even when they ultimately may pay for themselves over time with energy savings, are harder for most low-income families to afford.

"Thanks to our community partners, we have the opportunity to work together and support our neighbors with home improvements that are life changing," Chattanooga City Councilman Russel Gilbert said.

EPB launched its Home Energy Upgrade program in 2015 in partnership with green/spaces and the city of Chattanooga, along with the Lyndhurst, Benwood and Footprint foundations to conduct a pilot program to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes in low-income neighborhoods.

The highest energy bills for the poor in the United States are in the South where 46 percent of households with high energy burden (paying over 10 percent of their income for electricity) live.

Through the Home Energy Upgrade program, low-income households qualify for upgrades valued at up to $10 per square foot for insulation, heating and air conditioning improvements and duct repair or replacement to more energy-efficient LED lighting.

"Some might wonder why EPB would have a program to get folks to use less electricity. Isn't that what you sell?" EPB President David Wade. "The reason is that we are owned by our community, not shareholders, and we want to serve our community in ways that are best for the community. Why would any company want you to waste their product? We love when people use our electricity to heat and cool their homes. But there really isn't any value proposition to heating and cooling the outdoors."

The program is largely funded by TVA. Cindy Herron, vice president of TVA EnergyRight Solutions, said the program "makes homes healthier and and more comfortable"

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the support from TVA and local foundations "is a wise investment that ultimately pays big dividends for the whole community" by lowering energy use and giving more choices for many low-income families burdened by their power bills.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340