Contractors decry energy program

Changes to rebate plan costing them business, some say

By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / May 14, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

Some independent contractors say they are losing work because recent changes in a rebate program run by the state and utility companies block their access to potential customers.

Contractors aired their concerns at a meeting this week of the state’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, which helped redesign the MassSAVE program. They said that MassSAVE, which offers rebates to customers who make energy efficiency improvements to homes or businesses, is funneling too many potential customers to a competitor: Conservation Services Group, of Westborough.

Before the changes, potential customers often would be introduced to the rebate program by contractors, who could help them get rebates as financial incentives for weatherization and other efficiency projects.

Now, such customers must call MassSAVE and have an energy audit done before qualifying for any rebates on improvement projects.

Conservation Services is under contract with utility companies to handle customer calls to MassSAVE in certain areas. The firm assigns the resulting energy auditing jobs. Independent contractors said it is also performing too many of the home improvement projects that arise from those audits.

“The new, comprehensive statewide energy efficiency program was developed through an open and coordinated effort among the state, program administrators and consultants,’’ the utilities National Grid and NStar wrote in a joint statement to the Globe.

“Simply put — this is a turnkey approach to helping Massachusetts energy customers reach unprecedented levels of savings.’’

But Carolyn Johnston, cofounder of the independent contractor Energy Tech Solutions Inc., in Waltham, said she has seen fewer customers since the changes took place.

“During the busy season, you could get anywhere from 10 to 25 calls a day during the old rebate process,’’ she said. “At this point, we may get three to five a week.’’

Jim Lockwood, cofounder of the Brookline contracting company Green Guild, said he has also suffered a drop in business.

“The phones aren’t ringing,’’ he said. “Customers have no access to us. They go to the MassSAVE website.’’

Lockwood, Johnston, and other independent contractors said they would like to see the rebate program altered so that more firms handle the initial calls from customers and perform energy audits.

“We need to be able to market for ourselves, to send people to MassSAVE, and then be able to have the customers get the rebates and the weatherization,’’ Lockwood said.

Steve Cowell, chief executive of Conservation Services Group, defended his firm’s role in MassSAVE, saying the company acts as a “facilitator’’ for the rebate program.

“MassSAVE was created to serve consumers and ratepayers, not contractors,’’ Cowell wrote in a message to the Globe.

“We bring the consumer and the weatherization contractor together . . . to insure that quality work is performed through a simple ‘one-stop shopping’ transaction that maximizes savings and participation.’’

Johnston said she was hopeful that changes will be made, after members of the state council expressed a desire to work out a solution at Tuesday’s meeting.

Council member Paul Gromer said he understands why some contractors are frustrated, and that fixing the problem has taken longer than some might like.

“The contractors have a legitimate beef — that the program design doesn’t work for them,’’ he said.

Frank Gorke, director of the Division of Energy Efficiency at the state Department of Energy Resources, called the issues with MassSAVE “normal transitional bumps in the road,’’ and said they will be smoothed out.

“Over the past two years, we’ve been headed in this direction,’’ Gorke said. “We want to have a system where qualified contractors can bring customers to the system, and we will get there. We need to have a system where every home gets an audit and every contractor is qualified and every measure is cost-effective.’’

Some contractors welcomed the changes in the rebate program.

Rick Taglienti of Rogers Insulation Specialists in Framingham said the revamped program is easier for contractors and customers to use and gives contractors “very high’’ standards to meet.

“From my perspective, the customer is certainly getting a much better job completed,’’ Taglienti said. “It’s much more thorough, and the energy savings are certainly higher than what they could have expected before.’’

Erin Ailworth can be reached at