I-Team: After Expensive Energy Upgrades, Consumers Struggle To Get Promised Mass Save Rebates
BOSTON (CBS) - The boiler in Julie's basement was more than 30 years old, so the Newburyport homeowner decided to take advantage of some incentives to upgrade her heating system.
She spent $6,000 on a new unit, but knew the financial pain would hurt less thanks to a no-interest loan, along with an enticing rebate.
"The rebate was $1,900…that's a lot of money!" she told WBZ. "If that wasn't offered, I would've waited until I desperately needed a boiler."
The rebate is part of Mass Save, a statewide program that offers subsidized energy improvements for homeowners and businesses. Rate payers fund the program through a surcharge on their utility bills.
After the boiler installation, Julie submitted all of her documentation and waited for the rebate.
However, after several months, she could not get any answers about why her check had not arrived, despite repeated phone calls to Mass Save.
"I felt like I was being stonewalled," she said. "I started to really think it was some kind of scam."
Jamie Rogers knows the feeling. He spent about $10,000 for a top-of-the-line unit at his Cambridge home, anticipating a $3,500 rebate.
"The rebate actually makes it economical," Rogers said. "Without that, it's not economical at all."
However, over the course of eight months, Rogers said he called Mass Save at least 50 times to inquire about his incentive.
"They would promise to investigate and get back to me, but unfortunately, they would always forget to call back," Rogers explained.
Fed up, the business consultant with a PhD from Harvard finally contacted the WBZ I-Team to help resolve the problem.
"If it was any lesser amount of money, I would've given up a long time ago because it was a huge investment of my time," he said.
Utility companies like Eversource, National Grid and Columbia Gas are responsible for managing the Mass Save program.
They dispute there are any systemic issues with the program, telling the I-Team there were more than 13,600 heating system-related rebates successfully processed in 2016.
"Massachusetts has been number one in the nation in energy efficiency for six years running due in large part to the effectiveness and efficiency of the Mass Save program," Eversource spokesman Mike Durand said.
When the program works as planned, it receives rave reviews. However, when issues arise, it seems some consumers hit roadblocks trying to get the problem fixed.
The WBZ I-Team first looked at the issue in 2016, helping a couple of exasperated homeowners receive their rebates after installing new heating systems.
"It's almost like the system was designed for people to point fingers," expressed Andover homeowner Steve Morrison in July 2016.
After hearing from more consumers like Julie and Rogers, the I-Team requested consumer complaints filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General.
The documents revealed dozens of frustrating ordeals about the Mass Save rebate process:
- "I will never participate in this program again," wrote a Haverhill resident
- "It was a total pain in the neck," expressed a Newton resident
- "It took well over a year and a lot of phone calls," said a Billerica woman
- "I feel this is a scam and they have no intention of honoring the rebate," wrote a Waltham customer
The I-Team brought the complaints to the attention of Rep. Thomas Golden, a Democrat from Lowell who chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.
"It's not right. It's simply not right. People are not getting what they paid for," Golden said in response to the complaints.
The state lawmaker is a supporter of the Mass Save program, which he said has been a successful initiative since it launched in 2008. However, he has serious questions about the rebate process and promised the vendor would be held accountable.
"We have to make sure that rate payers, the people who are paying the tab, are being treated appropriately," Golden said.
The committee chair said the issue will be discussed during an energy efficiency hearing at the Statehouse on November 6. Golden welcomes consumers to testify about their Mass Save rebate experiences or contact his office with written comments.
After the I-Team got involved, Rogers finally got his $3,500 check.
"It was a big weight off my shoulders," he said.
Julie also got her money, but wonders how many other consumers run out of steam, and decide to give up.
"I think there's a lot of people who don't have the time or energy to pursue it," she told the I-Team. "And I was angry enough that I did."
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.
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