You can find complaints about our company on the Internet, just as you can find complaints about several of America’s most respected companies.

We could give you “our side” of alleged problems with the very few unhappy customers we apparently have out there. Unfortunately, this probably won’t help you much.

On the other hand, if you will invest just a moment or two of your time reading this page, you may gain some insight into how to evaluate claims and complaints published on the Internet about anyone and any company. Including ours.

First, we would ask you to consider three facts about State Energy Conservation.

     1. We have over 20,000 customers.  We try really, really hard to please our customers. Unfortunately, you can’t make everyone happy no matter how hard you try.

Our best guess is that we have fewer than a dozen customer complaints published in various places on the Internet. Some are duplicates filed by the same person on more than one site. 12 complaints would be six tenths of one percent (0.0006) of our customers.1

     2. Our customers may use more energy after installing our products.  Economists have identified a phenomenon called the “rebound” or “take-back effect” of energy conservation measures. For example, some customers start taking longer showers after installing a solar water heater. Others may set their air conditioner thermostat at a lower temperature after installing any energy conservation measure.

Naturally, this can result in complaints when these customers get their first electric bills after installing one of our systems—especially if their bills are higher. Researchers have observed rebound effects as high as 50% of expected energy efficiency savings for home air conditioning use and as high as 40% for home hot water use.2

A related—but different—problem can occur when a customer installs one of our energy conservation systems during mild weather, say, during the last month of spring or fall, then gets their next electric bill for a month of very hot or very cold weather.

     3. We make mistakes.  We are by far the largest energy conservation company in each local market we serve. And from time to time, we’ve made some hiring mistakes. We would like to think that we correct these hiring mistakes promptly once problems become known.

While we can’t control every statement made by every one of our representatives, we do endeavor to ensure that customers receive proper representations about the performance of our products, tax incentives, utility rebates, financing and expected energy cost savings. You can find clear explanations about these topics at the bottom of our website pages.

Now, about the Internet.

We probably don’t have to tell you that anyone can say anything on the Internet. On the other hand, you may not know about a special exception to defamation laws that applies to information published on the Internet.

Websites were treated like newspapers before 1996. Publishers could be held liable for defamatory information they failed to verify. But when Congress tried to restrict online pornography, Internet publishers argued that they would be more likely to incur liability for defamatory material if they removed some content (i.e., pornography) but not other content.

The Communications Decency Act.  This law, passed in 1996, restricted Internet pornography but created special immunity for publishers with respect to third party material on their websites. So now, an Internet publisher can have knowledge that third party content is false and still not be liable even if the publisher refuses to remove the untrue statements from its website.3

This sounds completely ridiculous, right?

Well, read what a recent opinion by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals said about Excentric Ventures, LLC, the Arizona company that operates the RipoffReport.com website:

“The business practices of Xcentric, as presented by the evidence before this Court, are appalling. Xcentric appears to pride itself on having created a forum for defamation. No checks are in place to ensure that only reliable information is publicized. Xcentric retains no general counsel to determine whether its users are availing themselves of its services for the purpose of tortious or illegal conduct. Even when, as here, a user regrets what she has posted and takes every effort to retract it, Xcentric refuses to allow it. Moreover, Xcentric insists in its brief that its policy is never to remove a post. It will not entertain any scenario in which, despite the clear damage that a defamatory or illegal post would continue to cause so long as it remains on the website, Xcentric would remove an offending post.

However much as this Court may disapprove of business practices like those embraced by Xcentric, the law on this issue is clear. Xcentric enjoys complete immunity from any action brought against it as a result of the postings of third party users of its website.”

  Read the entire Florida appellate court decision.

Note to malicious posters.  We can sue a third party poster for posting a false complaint about our company. Usually, this isn’t worth the time and trouble. But if a third party posts a particularly outrageous false statement about us, we do reserve the right to pursue them in court. So malicious posters should remember that while the Communications Decency Act gives immunity for third party statements to website owners, the immunity doesn’t protect the third party who posts the false statements.

About Better Business Bureau complaints

We try to answer and resolve Better Business Bureau complaints as promptly as possible. Some Better Business Bureau complaints reflect unreasonable expectations about the performance of our energy conservation products.

Still other complaints tend to arise after we get overwhelmed with response to a promotional offer, such as a coupon giveaway at a big regional home show. We can’t always redeem coupons as fast as some of the recipients might like.

Still, no matter how hard we try, we have an “F” grade from the BBB because of five of our 20,000+ customers. One customer moved out of their house and we cannot locate them, so BBB considers this complaint “unresolved.” As for the other four customers, we reached amicable settlements with each but BBB penalizes us for these complaints because we would not provide them with details of the settlements (or perhaps because we dealt with the complaints directly and declined to use BBB’s arbitration service).

BBB started its grading and “accredited business” program after the Internet took off, which gave rise to several competing business rating services. You have to ask yourself why a supposed nonprofit organization would care about other rating services.

Well, according to its 2012 IRS Form 990 tax return, the Better Business Bureau of Central Florida spent $271,503—about 21% of its program revenue for the year—on membership development (probably mostly sales commissions) and $129,220—about 10% of its program revenue for the year—on its president’s salary.4 If these numbers—which are just for the Central Florida BBB franchise—don’t raise your eyebrows, take a look at this investigative report by the ABC TV 20/20 news magazine show:
 

ABC TV’s 20/20 Investigates the Better Business Bureau Letter Grading System

So even the Ritz Carlton and Wolfgang Puck aren’t immune to the Better Business Bureau’s fundraising game.

And Apple isn’t immune either.  If America has a sweetheart giant corporation that can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of its customers, it would be the maker of iPods®, iPads® and iPhones®. Yet Apple, arguably America’s most respected company, had over 2,750 Better Business Bureau complaints at the end of May 2013. State Energy Conservation has about 47 Better Business Bureau complaints./em/

So please don’t jump to conclusions.

And don’t believe everything you read. About us or anyone else. Take complaints at face value. Try to read between the lines, and consider if perhaps the person making the complaint might just be unreasonably hard to please, or might have had unrealistic savings expectations. And if you see a post by a disgruntled former employee, well, you probably don’t need any advice from us about the possibility of sour grapes.

Thank you.
 

References

  1. Most of our competitors have only a few hundred customers. At the same 0.0006 complaint rate, one of our competitors would need at least 1,667 customers (1/0.0006 = 1,667) to have just one Internet complaint. Most of our competitors don’t have even 1,000 customers.
  2. For example, a rebound effect of 40% would mean that 40% of the expected energy efficiency savings were offset by increased energy consumption. See Greening, L.A., Green, D.L. and Difiglio, C. “Energy efficiency and consumption—the rebound effect—a survey.” Energy Policy 28(6-7): 389-401. 2000.
     
    The energy conservation rebound effect is related to Jevons Paradox, a theory proposed in 1865 by the English economist William Stanley Jevons. Jevons believed technology advances that increased industrial consumption efficiency of a resource tended to also increase the rate of consumption of the resource. Jevons argued, for example, that as the industrial efficiency of coal burning improved, coal burning factories would burn more coal, not less, in the end consuming more coal than before because factory owners would use the newfound efficiency to earn greater profits.
  3. 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1)
  4. The income tax returns of nonprofit corporations are public information. Here is the return referred to above for the Better Business Bureau of Central Florida, Inc.:
     
      2012 IRS Form 990 for Better Business Bureau of Central Florida, Inc.