Utility’s bankruptcy hurting conservation rebates

The Associated Press
Monday April 30, 2001

SACRAMENTO – Pacific Gas and Electric’s bankruptcy filing could hurt the state’s efforts to encourage conservation with energy-efficiency rebates. 

Some building contractors were supposed to be paid by the utility for things like installing energy-efficient windows. However, those rebate checks are now among $37 million in utility rebates and vouchers tied up in bankruptcy court. 

The utility says the delay involves only payments that were pending when PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection April 6. Rebate applications and vouchers submitted after that date will be honored as before. 

But the California Public Utilities Commission says the issue is causing uncertainty over existing rebates as the state prepares to spend $110 million to encourage consumers to buy energy-efficient appliances, windows, lights, furnaces and air conditioners. 

Bob Grandinetti, owner of Hall’s Window Center in Sacramento, said the utility owes his company about $80,000. 

“I have to front this money, wait for this money,” Grandinetti said. “I can’t demand 30-day payment; I have to accept their terms. And if I don’t offer (the discount), I’m not competitive.” 

Hall’s Windows is requiring its customers to agree to forfeit the discount if PG&E doesn’t pay. 

The Window Outlet in Woodland won’t provide the utility discount upfront at all — but will reimburse the customer if and when PG&E pays. 

Office manager Gail Burton said six PG&E checks bounced April 17. Though the utility is advising businesses to keep offering the discounts, she labeled the program “a farce.” 

Home Depot salesman Devin Rachac said customers at his Folsom store are lured by the rebate offer to consider costly but high-efficiency appliances, but some worry they’ll never actually see the money. 

PG&E gives rebates directly to consumers for buying Energy Star-labeled refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes dryers. 

It gives consumers discount vouchers to take to any of 296 participating contractors who install energy-efficient windows, exterior doors with glass, and heating and air conditioning systems. Those contractors then send the vouchers to PG&E for reimbursement. 

PG&E processed 14,283 vouchers the first three months of this year, compared to 30,417 all of last year.  

It has received applications for 1,383 appliance rebates in the first two weeks of the program that began in late March, but some of those rebates, like the contractor vouchers, are tied up in the bankruptcy proceedings. 

Customers pay for the rebates and vouchers with a surcharge on their electricity bills, but PG&E lawyer Bob McLennan said the money has been frozen by the bankruptcy filing. 

The utility will ask the bankruptcy judge at a May 16 hearing to pay the rebates and vouchers, McLennan said, but the judge could instead opt to make the money available to other creditors.