Front Porch Blog

Chattanooga Shows the Southeast How It is Done on Energy Efficiency

Outgoing Mayor Saves Million$ and Creates Jobs by Mandating 25% Energy Reduction

Tennessee has made a name for itself in the last few years by being one of the fastest improving states for energy efficiency, according to industry groups such as ACEEE. Specifically, Chattanooga has gained international notoriety for being the democratically elected best outdoor town in America, ranked as one of the 25 places to visit worldwide in 2012, and now – being a regional leader in energy efficiency.

The Times-Free Press summarizes:

Just over 40 years ago, Chattanooga had the nation’s “dirtiest” air. Fifteen years ago, it was the nation’s new “environmental city.” Two years ago, city officials created an office with the specific mission of becoming a “sustainable” city.

This week, Chattanooga’s mayor enacted a real plan.

Mayor Littlefield’s executive order (which you can read here) calls for a 35% electricity reduction in City buildings, projects, and programs as part of a larger 25% overall energy reduction.

Appalachian Voices was privileged to sit down with Mayor Littlefield’s Sustainability Coordinator Heather Adcox to ask why the Mayor and the city of Chattanooga considered efficiency so important. Adcox’ reply was simple and straightforward.

It’s the right thing to do- Sustainability is a priority for our local government and we want to lead by example. We know that many residents and businesses choose to move to Chattanooga because of the reputation our city has in regards to sustainability- we want to foster this movement where it makes sense. For the local government, that means starting at home. There are also big economic savings associated with energy efficiency that will ultimately save money, allowing us to utilize our tax payer dollars more efficiently.

Mayor Littlefield and his office are emphasizing the economic benefits that the people of Chattanooga can expect as these changes are implemented…

Adcox continued:

There are also intrinsic values such as cleaner air quality and water quality that should lead to more healthy residents. If we are able to convert our fleet vehicles to CNG, the reductions in GHG emissions could be enormous! It has the potential to save residents from having to get their emissions tested yearly, which, of course, a cost savings to our residents, but it’s also a huge benefit to our air quality.

Tax payer dollars go towards paying the city’s utility bills. We currently spend $11.4M on our utilities (electric and gas)- $2M of which has been tied directly to our buildings energy usage and an additional $850k on water. Any savings in these areas will add up quickly.

The impacts are expected to be felt beyond just our pocketbooks, as Chattanooga expects to take large strides in cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, thus benefiting the global environment.

There are also intrinsic values such as cleaner air quality and water quality that should lead to more healthy residents. If we are able to convert our fleet vehicles to CNG, the reductions in GHG emissions could be enormous! It has the potential to save residents from having to get their emissions tested yearly, which, of course, a cost savings to our residents, but it’s also a huge benefit to our air quality.

The less energy we use, the less has to be produced- that’s the idea any way. If we are able, as an entire community and region, to use less energy we could impact the need for TVA to have to produce more (that’s big BIG picture and would require everyone’s participation) but the benefits would be huge. The City of Chattanooga wants to do its part.

Regarding GHG- Our buildings, our landfill, and our fleet vehicles are among our biggest GHG contributors. This Executive Order echoes our Climate Action Plan in establishing GHG reduction goals which will impact our air quality.

Adcox did emphasize that these requirements are only for buildings and processes owned and operated by the City of Chattanooga. This particular order will not impact the behavior of private citizens. However, individual and family efficiency investments in residential areas can help create jobs, save money, and reduce energy demand, particularly across the southeastern United States. The City of Chattanooga is leading by example, by showing many of the beneficial activities we can take as citizens that will help increase our use of energy efficiency simply by increasing awareness.

Our government is looking at these simple things- turning lights off, turning computers off when you leave at the end of the day, bring a blanket/jacket instead of using the portable heaters, use the revolving doors, etc.

Then there are bigger ticket items like taking a good look at our buildings and determining what upgrades need to occur such as new windows, new lights, etc.

It’s a balancing act. There are financial, environmental, and social considerations (the “Triple Bottom Line”) that need to be considered in everything we do. Some strategies are more practical for some people/businesses than other strategies. The most important starting place is awareness- know what you spend/use and how you spend/use it. From there you can prioritize and begin to make changes that suit your comfort level.

Adcox explained that much of the benefit will come from simply “being smart” and increasing awareness of how and why we use our resources wisely. However, there will also be many jobs created in the energy efficiency sector through projects like building retrofits. Its a win-win for Chattanooga, for taxpayers, for jobs, for the environment, and for our energy future. Appalachian Voices would like to congratulate the Mayor and his staff for taking these smart steps on energy efficiency which will make Chattanooga an even greater city than it already is.

>>>Full disclosure – The author is a river-living, bridge-walking, Shuford’s-consuming Chattanooga native, currently very proud of his hometown. <<<

Raised on the banks of the Tennessee River, JW's work to create progress in his home state and throughout Appalachia has been featured on the Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Kos and Grist. He served first as Appalachian Voices’ Legislative Associate and then Tennessee director until leaving to pursue a career in medicine in 2012.


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