7 On Your Side

Energy savings program ordered to shut down

Monday, June 24, 2013

A private company accused of misrepresenting itself as part of a California energy savings program has been ordered to shut down. State regulators ordered the shutdown following a 7 On Your Side investigation in January.

This story came to our attention when an Oakland woman contacted us saying the $9,200 heating and air conditioning unit she installed wasn't heating her home properly. When we saw the paperwork she signed, we began asking questions.

Oakland resident Arma Knight had one goal and one goal only. She just wanted to stay warm in the winter. She told us the heating unit she purchased last year just wasn't working properly.

"I was not getting any heat in the living room so it was cold. You had to wrap up and dress like you out in the winter," said Knight.

Back in January, Knight showed us the contract she signed with the Energy Upgrade Program for her unit. The contract had a PG&E logo on it, but when we contacted PG&E, the utility told us it had no relationship with the company. Knight told us that is the exact opposite of what the Energy Upgrade Program told her.

"They identified themselves as calling from PG&E and wanted to know if you'd be interested in some of their energy upgrade saving program," said Knight.

The so-called savings program will end up costing Arma $19,000 after interest. We contacted both the California Public Utilities Commission and the Contractors State License Board. The CPUC now accuses the Energy Upgrade Program of misrepresenting itself as part of the Energy Upgrade California. That's a state program offering energy savings through rebates and upgrades. The CPUC demanded the Energy Upgrade Program stop using the name immediately.

In a letter the CPUC wrote, "This letter constitutes the California Public Utilities Commission demand that you cease and desist using the name Energy Upgrade and any or all related marketing." The company's website has since been taken down and the phone number disconnected. Knight, meanwhile, is trying to get her energy needs in order.

"Oh, it was scary. It sounded like somebody had dropped a bomb," said Knight.

She's talking about the heating grate cover that fell from her ceiling. The grate also knocked off her light fixture before both crashed to the ground.

"It just fell down and glass shattered everywhere," said Knight.

The grate and entire heating unit was installed by Syntrol. That's a company based in Roseville which told us in January that it paid the Energy Upgrade Program for referrals. The Contractors State License Board contacted Syntrol about the incident and Syntrol immediately replaced the grate. The Contractors State License Board also investigated Syntrol's relationship with the Energy Upgrade Program.

"The evidence we've got right now does not enable us to come to some conclusion that there's some wrongdoing going on," said Rick Lopes from the Contractors State License Board. "Today we're not been able to find any definitive connection between the two companies."

Syntrol told 7 On Your Side it would be more careful next time. Owner Paul Bianchi told us, "Syntrol has made changes to its marketing and sales in an effort to help avoid future misunderstandings for our customers. We are also more selective on which lead generating companies we work with."

After being contacted by 7 On Your Side, Syntrol worked on fixing Knight's heating unit.

"It's a lot nicer. I can at least be warm and watch TV," said Knight.

We reached out to a representative of the Energy Upgrade Program and he did not get back to us.

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Tags:
oakland, PG&E, energy, 7 on your side, michael finney
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