City joins challenge to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent

Mayor Andy Berke explains the steps the city will take to become more energy efficient. (Photo: Staff)

Authored By matt.pulford

Mayor Andy Berke explains the steps the city will take to become more energy efficient. (Photo: Staff)

Mayor Andy Berke announced at a press conference Tuesday that the city, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Building Challenge, aims to reduce its energy consumption in government buildings by 20 percent over the next 10 years.

Currently, more than 70 percent of Chattanooga’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the 200-plus city-owned buildings, Berke said. All these buildings, about 2 million square feet total, gobble up 250 million kilowatt-hours of energy annually, but through the BBC, the city hopes to reduce that number, he said.

“Over 10 years we [plan to] reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, and just doing the math quickly, we’re talking about saving 50 million kwh,” Berke said. “This makes a huge difference.”

Berke said that his office will also be partnering with GreenSpaces to implement these changes on government property. The city will also work with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, EPB and other businesses to mitigate energy expenditures in private industry and homes.

Michael Walton, GreenSpaces executive director, said that the city’s involvement in this program will pit Chattanooga against 50 other U.S. cities in a Georgetown University competition for national attention and a $5 million prize.

The university judges cities based on the energy performance of both residential and municipal buildings, Walton said. The city government joining the BBC gives Chattanooga a more competitive chance to win, he said.

More than simply contending against other green cities, the BBC will positively impact the city’s triple bottom line of economic, environmental and social growth, he said.

“The BBC is not asking cities to do anything that doesn’t make financial sense,” Walton said. “It’s really about making investments. As time goes on, the city will not only save money but will also improve the local environment, and they will be able to redirect their funds for use on other social services.

“It’s about people and the planet, but it’s also about profit. The best thing about this challenge is that it is focused on all three.”

Walton said the city will, over 10 years, receive a return on investment by using more efficient lightbulbs and installing light controls to better regulate power use.

He said certain buildings will be investigated to help close their “thermal envelope” so that less heat or AC would escape, saving even more money. Eventually, heating and cooling units might be replaced with more efficient models, he said.

“All this represents another significant step forward for our community,” Walton said.

Bill Kilbride, Chattanooga Chamber president and CEO, said the chamber would reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, too.

“We’ll work in the dark, shut off the elevators-whatever we have to do to meet our goals, because we love goals,” Kilbride said jokingly. “We’re eager to hit our goal early on.”

He said that they would also encourage the 2,400 member businesses in the chamber network to do the same and help connect them with resources to make energy reduction possible. 

These sustainable, environmental practices are good for businesses, he said. Companies would improve their bottom line and save money, and employee retention could rise, too, Kilbride said.

EPB is also partnering with the city. 

David Wade, the utility’s COO, said that EPB offers free energy audits to customers so that they can see how much energy they spend, helping those concerned reduce their energy expenditures.

“It has made perfect sense for us to jump on board, and we look forward to working with the city and our homes and businesses to be more efficient with how they use energy,” Wade said.