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KCDC and ORNL team up to reduce energy bills, starting with low-income communities

Scientists hope new insulation technology could save people up to 75% on their energy bill

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The Secretary of Energy joined leaders from Oak Ridge National Lab and Knoxville's Community Development Corporation to announce a project scientists hope will cut energy bills by 75%. 

The project would put new siding on apartments in KCDC's Western Heights community, an affordable housing complex. 

"In so many cases, low-income communities are the last ones to receive technology that's going to help reduce energy consumption," said KCDC CEO Ben Bentley. "Anything we can do to help residents help their bottom line and also reduce energy consumption at our sites, that's a really big deal." 

It's a problem Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said she sees nationwide. 

"People who are in low-and-moderate-income homes are the ones that have the highest energy burden," Secretary Granholm said. "They're often in places that have leaky windows, siding, an old building ... They're spending so much more per family on their monthly energy bill."

ORNL researcher Diana Hun said her team will use new materials, applied in aircraft and other sectors, to insulate these buildings.

The researchers created siding, which can go over the top of the Western Heights units, and will hopefully reduce utility costs for the people who live here. Hun described her design as a "nice looking jacket" for the homes.

Pamela Moore is a resident ambassador for KCDC's Western Heights community and lives in a one-bedroom apartment. 

Moore said in the winter she pays anywhere from $180 to $220 per month on energy bills — not easy on a fixed income.

"Either you don't pay that or don't pay something else," Moore said. "You have to make the choice. 

ORNL researchers say they hope to start the update at Western Heights in 2024. 

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