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GreenSpaces executive director, Michael Walton, speaks Wednesday at green|spaces about a program that is aimed at reducing energy consumption.

LEARN MORE

Residents can learn about Empower at several community meetings:

Jan. 26, 5:30 p.m.: East Chattanooga Center, 2409 Dodson Ave.

Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m.: East Lake Center, 3701 Dodds Ave.

Feb. 2, 5:30 p.m.: Highland Park, 1700 Duncan Ave.

TO APPLY

Avondale residents can apply for free energy-saving home retrofits, Feb. 1 - Feb. 28. How?

At any EPB location

By calling 423-648-1372

Online at epb.net

Energy bills for Chattanooga residents in Highland Park, East Lake and East Chattanooga could shrink considerably in the next couple of years, if a new program aimed at doing just that takes off.

Announced Wednesday, Empower also could win the city $5 million from the Georgetown University Energy Prize.

Here's the twist: Those bills would drop because of smarter use of electricity, the aim of Georgetown's contest -- also helping residents live healthier and more sound lives, Empower's ultimate goal.

"It's a broader challenge," said Michael Walton, executive director of GreenSpaces, which is spearheading Empower. EPB and Chattanooga play big roles too, with a couple of dozen other organizations involved.

The first step in reducing energy consumption will come thanks to EPB.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit, city-owned utility announced Home Energy Upgrade, a pilot program that will focus on the Avondale neighborhood, which has historically high energy bills. EPB is shooting for a 25 percent drop in energy use in about 10 homes, over the course of a year. That would happen through energy-saving retrofits. Homeowners can apply through EPB, Feb. 1-28, to be considered for the pilot.

"It's good for them, it's good for the community as a whole, and it's good for the environment," said Elizabeth Hammitt, EPB's director of community and environmental stewardship.

East Chattanooga, Highland Park and East Lake are Empower's primary areas of focus. A study by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies showed that in January 2012 and 2013, homes in those areas used 43 percent more electricity per square foot than the average home in Chattanooga.

Empower organizers have not shared what Chattanooga's total energy consumption is or how much the project aims to lower it.

Chattanooga was one of 50 cities nationwide to be finalists in the Georgetown competition. The contest's mission is straightforward: Demonstrate success in sustainability, reducing per-capita energy use over the course of two years. Finalists will be announced in 2017.

Making it to the semifinals was no small feat: It required detailed plans and commitments from local government, electric and natural gas utilities and community organizations.

GreenSpaces commissioned the Ochs Center, based in Chattanooga, to analyze Empower's target areas using focus groups, surveys and analysis of previous community studies. The Ochs Center's initial report gave feedback about the relevance of energy efficiency to quality of life in the three key communities. Next, Empower will connect with neighborhood leaders through outreach meetings and advisory groups.

Only one other city in Tennessee made it to the semifinals: Knoxville. Cites in California and Washington had the biggest showing. Colorado, Michigan, Vermont and Virginia had three cities each. Twenty-six states in all were represented.

Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at mmalek@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter @mitramalek.

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