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Photo by Dave Flessner / EPB President David Wade talks about the Home Uplift program during an announcement of the program's expansion Friday in Miller Park.

This story was updated at 3:54 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, with more information.

Four years ago, Carolyn Humphries moved back into the 3-bedroom home in Ooltewah where she grew up and quickly discovered the 71-year-old home lacked adequate insulation or modern heating and air conditioning, often pushing up her electric bill to as much as $350 a month.

In the winter of 2018 when Humphries was forced to use space heaters and an electric fire place to keep warm, she got a monthly electric bill for over $600 from EPB and she knew she had to do something to lower her utility costs.

"I was in a very bad situation and I didn't know what I was going to do," Humphries recalled. "My windows were leaking; the front door was not safe and there was practically no insulation."

Humphries, who was newly divorced at the time and has since retired for health reasons, ultimately found relief from the same utility that was sending her monthly bills she could no longer afford.

With the aid of its wholesale power supplier — the Tennessee Valley Authority — EPB provided Humphries a new heating and cooling system, window and attic insulation and even a new front door through its Home Uplift program. The energy upgrades provided to Humphries cut her average monthly electric bill to only $86, or less than a third of what she had been paying.

" I also used to get bronchitis and pneumonia a lot," Humphries recalled. "Now I don't get sick like I used to. I feel healthier, comfortable and safe in my home."

Humphries is one of nearly 500 low-income homeowners who have benefited by the Home Uplift program since EPB began offering the energy upgrades in 2015 to improve the energy efficiency in many older, low-income households where homeowners can't afford to install insulation or replace aging heating and air conditioning systems. The program costs an average of $8,000 per household to make the required energy upgrades, but the homeowners don't have to pay for the improvements which, on average, have cut average electricity usage by more than 25%.

"This is a testament to the public power model and what we can achieve when we come together to solve our community's challenges," TVA Chairman Bill Kilbride said Friday during an announcement of an expansion of the Home Uplift program in Chattanooga.

Although the program reduces electricity that TVA and EPB sell, Kilbride said the program "is the right thing to do" to promote better and more cost-effective energy use and to aid economic development across TVA's 7-state service territory.

EPB was one of the first of the 39 local power companies that have since joined with TVA to offer the Home Uplift program since it began in 2015 as a way to target energy efficiency assistance to low-income households that often need such aid the most.

Under the Home Uplift program, TVA has provided $15.4 million in matching funds over the past six years to EPB and other TVA distributors participating in the program. Although TVA has cut some of the energy efficiency subsidies it once provided to all of its consumers, the federal utility has budgeted a record $12 million for the program in the current fiscal year.

TVA matches local funding from TVA distributors, cities, nonprofit groups and even some targeted funds provided in the past through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Federal Home Loan Bank.

"TVA's public power model is a force multiplier when it comes to helping those struggling with energy burdens," said Doug Perry, TVA's senior vice president of commercial energy solutions. "Programs like Home Uplift allow us to bring together financial resources and local organizations to change lives by making homes healthier and more comfortable."

For the first time this year, the city of Chattanooga is also helping to provide matching funds for the Home Uplift program with $300,000 budgeted this year for both homeowners and renters that participate in the program within the city of Chattanooga. The city and EPB are each providing $300,000 of matching funds this year to match $600,000 from TVA to fund the biggest yearly budget yet for the Home Uplift program in Chattanooga. The additional funds should allow energy upgrades for another 150 homes.

Mayor Tim Kelly said expanding the program to include renters where landlords agree to the improvements should expand the scope of the assistance and help many more low-income families and older neighborhoods in the city.

"Preserving affordable housing is vital to maintaining neighborhood character as Chattanooga grows," Kelly said. "By lowering energy bills, Home Uplift reduces our greenhouse-gas emissions, puts people to work in good-paying jobs (performing the energy upgrades) and allows people to remain in their homes while also improving their health."

Kelly said such initiatives are key to Chattanooga maintaining and growing its reputation as a city committed to the environment and sustainability.

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.

EPB Energy Pros, who regularly provide energy audits and inspections, help assess and direct the energy improvements paid for through the Home Uplift program. EPB President David Wade said the program highlights EPB's mission to help Chattanooga "maximize the value of energy" and improve the lives of local residents, rather than simply to maximize EPB revenues through more electricity sales.

Home Uplift is available to low-income households in single-family homes built after 1976. The program is open to single persons with annual income of no more than $25,760, two-person households with incomes of up to $34,840, three-person households of up to $43,920 and four-person households with incomes up to $53,000.

EPB customers can call EPB Energy Pros for more information about energy audits or the Home Uplift program at 423-648-1372 and may book appointments at EPB.com/energypros.

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

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