By Marcelle Dibrell
Southern California Edison has made some unexpected changes to its rebate policy on the sale and installation of variable-speed pumps.
Rebates are no longer available to the customers of the majority of pool service professionals that operate in Southern California. Currently, homeowners may receive their rebates for the purchase of a variable-speed pump only at Leslie’s Pool Supply.
In the Feb. 28 issue of Service Industry News, a letter-to-the-editor alerted staff to the new policy change. Joshua Smith, owner of Integrity Plus Pool Repair in Upland, California, wrote to tell the industry: “Currently Leslie's Pool Supply is the only contractor qualified for incentives.”
His was not the only letter received.
Merrelee Puccio, manager of Alpha Water Systems in Simi Valley, California, wrote: “The homeowner can only get the rebate if they buy the pump via retail store (which is only Leslie’s).”
And at press time, this is true.
“To me, it’s not fair trade practice,” said David Hawes, Independent Pool & Spa Service Association president and Region 1 director. “Leslie’s is a platinum sponsor of IPSSA and they are screwing us on the retail side. I don’t think it’s fair that they get that privilege and no one else does. They are being given an advantage that we don’t get.”
SCE’s new website states it is now partnering with local retailers to provide an instant rebate when homeowner’s purchase a qualifying variable-speed pump.
But the only listed retailer is Leslie’s.
According to SCE, the criteria an entity must meet to offer customers a $200 instant point-of-sale discount is that they operate one or more physical retail store locations.
“But that still leaves out most of the industry. As far as I’m concerned, I’m a retail store on wheels,” said Terry Snow, IPSSA’s Chair of the Legislation and Regulation Committee.
Mike Giddens, Jandy’s regional sales manager, said his firm is fielding dozens of phone calls a day from concerned service techs.
“Everybody is up in arms, especially at the street level,” he said. “I’m blown away that they basically said, ‘screw you’ to the service side of our industry, aligned with a few stakeholders. They’ve made a hard-line shift with big-box retail, and the internet.”
It has been two months since the policy change yet Leslie’s remains the sole entity capable of providing the rebate.
“You would think that by now, other retail stores would be on Edison’s list. But as far as I know no one was notified,” Snow said. “I know a guy with stores in San Bernardino and Riverside. They would have signed up with Edison in a heartbeat, but they weren’t notified.”
Jerry Wallace, chairman of the board of directors for the California Pool and Spa Association, said that the CPSA has been engaged with SCE for several weeks, questioning the reasons for the policy change and attempting to explain why the shift is unfair to service professionals.
“It seems like there are legal problems like antitrust issues, restraint of trade, and unfair business practices,” Wallace said. “I’m not an attorney, so I can’t say for sure, but it looks like it is pretty well in that realm to me.”
Thus far, the association has made little headway with SCE, and John Norwood, director of the CPSA’s government relations, said that SCE has not been quick to respond because the utilities are buried in wildfire issues and that is their No. 1 priority right now.
“People have been asking us to go to the Public Utilities Commission or the attorney general because it’s restraint of trade, but those actions would just take longer in my view,” Norwood said. “We’re certainly prepared to raise the issue with several legislators, and certainly the PUC, but the PUC is not quick to act on anything.”
According to Norwood, many have suggested filing a lawsuit against SCE but he does not think that would be an effective course of action.
“We’re talking about multi-billion dollar companies here,” he said.
No one seems to understand why SCE would make a change like this. Norwood speculated that perhaps processing so many different rebate claims from service professionals and retailers was difficult to manage.
Bob Nichols, owner of Precision Pool Service in San Dimas, California, is among a growing number of concerned service techs making attempts to directly engage with Edison. In multiple letters, Nichols has explained the years of training and certification that goes into becoming a qualified equipment installer.
“A poorly installed variable-speed pump or replacement motor will cause more damage to conservation than any other element of the swimming pool industry. Properly sized, installed and programmed variable-speed systems will be successful,” Nichols wrote. “Therefore, trained and licensed swimming pool technicians are the key to energy efficiency when it comes to swimming pool energy conservation.”
Furthermore, it makes little sense that SCE is suddenly cutting incentives to the roughly 900 Foundation for Pool and Spa Industry Education certified installers that SCE helped sponsor in the first place.
The policy shift is incomprehensible to Robert Rankin, vice president of Pool Corp.
“If SCE’s goal is to convert more people to variable-speed motors, then Leslie’s is just the tip of the iceberg. SCE should be dealing with every distributor and every retailer and they are not being fair. They are also not accomplishing the goal if the goal is to be greener and save energy. They are just not offering it to enough people,” Rankin said. “I don’t think that all of Southern California Leslie’s sells what some of my single stores do.”
Since January, Rankin has been involved in fruitless negotiations with employees within Edison’s rebate program who keep changing, so whatever progress he makes gets brought back to square one.
Rankin has tried to get SCE to include all distributors in the rebate program, and was nearly at the point of a contract, but he was not able to get them to declare when they would pay back the rebates.
“I can’t have a $100,000 rebate claim that Edison doesn’t want to take care of for six months,” he said. “We sell a lot of pumps — you’re talking about $200 times 100 on a daily basis. We want it in writing that they can meet this volume, and how fast they can pay back the claims, because it does become an outstanding debt for us. When we were sharing some of those numbers with Edison, I think it scared them. I don’t think Edison has that much money in the kitty, but I don’t know.”
At press time, that kind of negotiation seems to be off the table, as SCE has since told Rankin that the rebate is available to retail stores only.
For Edison, apparently the undercurrent of dissent has gotten too big to ignore. With the help of concerned service techs like Nichols, as well as the CPSA, IPSSA leadership, Pool Corp., and equipment manufacturers, Edison’s Home Energy Advisor has finally agreed to a meeting to take place in March.
“I think that every service person in this industry should be bombing Edison with emails saying, ‘I make my business in this industry and I can’t compete with a retailer right now,’” Rankin said.
Those wishing to contact Edison should do so through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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