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File Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Green Spaces executive director Michael Walton talks about EPB's Home Energy Upgrade program at the home of East Chattanooga resident Hazel Benford, the 250th homeowner to receive the energy improvements in Chattanooga. Also at the June event, from left, were Mayor Andy Berke, TVA CEO Jeff Lyash, EPB President David Wade and City Council member Anthony Byrd.

CORRECTION: This story was updated Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, at 7:55 p.m. to correctly identify the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. An earlier version of the story inadvertently identified the organization as the American Coalition for Environmental Efficient Economy.

The fastest growing employment sector in America's energy industry last year came from those working to help reduce the amount of energy consumers use, according to a new study released Monday.

Nearly 2.5 million Americans, including 3,690 employees in Chattanooga, worked in energy efficiency-related jobs in 2018. The third annual "Energy Efficiency Jobs in America" report from the national, nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) said energy efficiency accounted for one of every four energy jobs last year and was the fastest growing part of the industry.

Energy efficiency employment grew by 1,397 jobs in Tennessee, or nearly 2.7% more than the previous year, to 53,006. In Georgia, energy efficiency jobs totaled 61,193 last year, up by 2,128 jobs or 3.6, from the previous year.

"We have more people working in energy efficiency in the state of Massachusetts (87,473) than all the coal miners in the country," said Pat Stanton, director of policy, E4TheFuture. "Seventy percent of electricity used in America is used in buildings and there is still a huge potential to be more energy efficient as these numbers show."

Top states for energy efficiency jobs

1. California, 318,542 jobs

2. Texas, 162,816 jobs

3. New York, 123,292 jobs

4. Florida, 118,412 jobs

5. Illinois, 89,469 jobs

Source: E2

Proponents of energy efficiency contend the cheapest kilowatthour is the one that is never bought, even after decades of tax breaks and utility assistance that have helped encourage such energy efficiency.

"There is both public and private interest in energy conservation," Stanton said. "If you are growing and need more power, the least costly option is usually energy efficiency."

Stanton said the Tennessee Valley Authority has been a driver in promoting energy efficiency with a variety of programs through the years, including its support for EPB's Home Energy Upgrade program in targeted low-income neighborhoods.

In Chattanooga, the Home Energy Upgrade program has made energy improvements on more than 250 homes. TVA CEO Jeff Lyash said one of his favorite moments during his first 100 days on the job was seeing the improvements made to cut the $200-plus electric bills by more than half for East Chattanooga home owner Hazel Benford.

"TVA is committed to energy efficiency programs and I think our focus on the most challenged members of our community is the right fit for TVA," Lyash said after TVA adopted its budget plan for 2020.

TVA's pilot Home Energy Upgrade programs offered in the five major cities in the Tennessee Valley during the past couple of years is being expanded to any of the 154 local power companies that match TVA's support for the grant program to low-income home owners. TVA is budgeting $9 million in fiscal 2020, $10.5 million in fiscal 2021 and $12 million in fiscal 2022 for the program, according to those briefed on TVA's spending plans.

But with its future power demand stagnant or declining, TVA has backed away from most of its major support for other energy efficiency programs.

"There was a time when TVA was spending roughly $100 million a year on energy efficiency programs, but that has been reduced by about 90%," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a member of the TVA Regional Resource Council. "TVA's new integrated resource plan doesn't do as much as previous plans in supporting energy efficiency and that is a lost opportunity."

Unlike investor-owned utilities which tend to want to sell more power to make a better return for their investors, Lyash insists the public power model of TVA and the municipalities and power coops that distribute TVA-generated power are focused on their consumers, not shareholders. So if consumers benefit from energy conservation and efficiency — even it if means less revenue and earnings for TVA — that's the mission of the New Deal agency created in the depths of the Great Depression to help electrify and aid the Tennessee Valley.

"I think we have some pretty strong energy efficiency programs we're going to continue those," Lyash said. "For me, the places to really drive energy efficiency are in building codes, appliance standards and heating and cooling efficiency."

TVA plays a supportive role in promoting energy efficiency, but Lyash said efficiency standards and other government and nonprofit agencies also can work to encourage homeowners and businesses to be more energy efficient, not just TVA.

In its 2018 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Tennessee No. 35, Georgia No. 38 and Alabama No. 41 among the 50 states.

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

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