TVA’s Extreme Energy Makeovers program has made a big difference in the lives of low income ratepayers. Now, thanks to involvement from local power companies, communities and federal programs, the good work will continue.
Many people across the Valley struggle limited or fixed incomes struggle to pay their energy bills. Due to inefficient housing, these consumers pay as much as 15 to 20 percent more on their electric bills than the average Valley household.
“Every day we get customers who come into our office with really high utility bills,” says Jamie Creekmore, customer service representative with Cleveland Utilities in Cleveland, Tenn. “Often times the cause is something that’s out of their control—often they are renters or they can’t afford to make home improvements that would help lower their utility bill.”
Enter TVA’s Extreme Energy Makeover (EEM) program, which was designed to remedy just such problems. Over 3,400 qualified people were able to participate in EEM in seven areas across the Valley in 2017, and participants saw an average reduction of around 35 percent on their energy bills. As part of EEM, income qualified participants received insulation, new or repaired HVAC, air sealing, new windows/doors and energy saving appliances. As the projects wind down in September, local power companies and community leaders are looking for ways to continue the work started by EEM.
“The response to the EEM projects, with their focus on low-income families, has been overwhelming,” says Cindy Herron, vice president of TVA’s EnergyRight Solutions®. “The projects brought together local power companies, community groups, housing authorities, community resource agencies and private companies to maximize resources and leverage each entity’s strength. This approach helped bring effective solutions that address the high energy burdens these families face.”
An Energy Efficiency Information Exchange was formed in 2017 to examine low income energy issues for the past year. The team, comprised of local power companies, city and state officials and local non-profit groups, realized a need to support existing weatherization initiatives available in the Valley and look for funding opportunities at a national or community level.
TVA partnered with the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency to help develop new technology designed to streamline the Department of Energy funded Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). The new technology—called WAPez—will help WAP administrators eliminate duplicate databases and serve more income-qualified households in the process.
To test the new technical tool WAPez, TVA piloted projects in three areas: Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.
Many local power companies and community groups already collect funds to help people pay for high utility bills, but are looking to direct those funds to home weatherization as a more long term solution.
“Folks struggle with their utility bills month after month because their homes are very inefficient. And that results in many families having to turn to utility bill assistance programs month after month,” says Erin Gill, director of sustainability for the City of Knoxville. “Our community is spending millions of dollars to provide that assistance, but we’re not solving the root cause of the problem, which is inefficient housing.”
Another potential source of funding for weatherization is through the medical community. Unhealthy homes can costs billions of dollars on health issues caused by poor indoor air quality, mold and moisture —things that are typically corrected through weatherization.
“The opportunity to partner with the medical community to add energy efficiency when improving homes of heath care patients may be a great opportunity make a difference in peoples lives.” says Frank Rapley, senior manager of EnergyRight Solutions for Home. “Through Extreme Energy Makeover projects we keep hearing how participants’ health has improved since their homes were weatherized, so we want to continue to explore this co-benefit impact of energy efficiency.”
A new EnergyRight Solutions program, Community Weatherization Assistance, grew out of the success of the EEM projects. By partnering with LPCs, human resource agencies, and local non-profits TVA will continue its outreach to communities and neighborhoods that typically bear a higher energy burden.
“Through this new effort, we are shifting our focus to a community level to see what energy solutions we can offer to serve the people in the Valley who need it most.” says Rapley
“What we’ve learned from the Extreme Energy Makeover project is the huge difference we’ve been able to make in our customers’ lives. We plan to continue energy workshops and to meet customers on their turf and even go door to door to find out how we as a utility can better serve their needs and improve the services in their area,” says Creekmore.