The summer heat has started, and that means higher electric bills. But if you’re looking to add solar panels or other products to make your home more energy-efficient, there is one company the Better Business Bureau says you might want to avoid.
Fort Worth-based Global Efficient Energy — one of the largest solar installers in the country — was asked to resign its Fort Worth BBB membership last month and has an F rating for not responding to complaints or leaving them unresolved.
“We felt it was necessary to alert the public,” said Lindsey Haas, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth BBB. “We are warning people against their business practices.”
The BBB said the company also operates under the names GEE; Global Efficiency Holding Company LLC; and Global NRG. The company’s founder, Abe Issa, also owns a similar environmental products company called EnviSmart LLC, which is also based in Fort Worth.
Communication was terrible with them.
Patricia Varquera, Saginaw homeowner
GEE has received 106 complaints in the past year, according to the BBB. Since January, the BBB says it has received 35 complaints valued at more than $1 million lost. Most are from customers in Texas, especially Arlington, Fort Worth, Grapevine and Austin, said Haas.
The typical complaint alleges that GEE won’t honor its guarantee of 40 percent savings on household energy bills. Complaints also state that customer service representatives are hard to reach and calls go unreturned. Some of the complaints allege GEE overcharged up to 300 percent for the the solar panels.
“We were guaranteed 40 percent savings of electric and gas — it’s in our contract,” said Patricia Varquera of Saginaw, who bought a radiant barrier, solar attic fans and a five-panel solar array from a door-to-door GEE salesman. Varquera said she took out a loan from a companion company of GEE for $15,900 for the upgrade, but has seen only a marginal reduction in her energy bills.
“Communication was terrible with them,” she said. “We’d call and not get anywhere. They were supposed to come out every year and give us an energy audit and rebate, but we never got either. We would like for them to pay off our loan.”
She complained to the BBB this year. GEE responded that it would get in touch, but never did, Varquera said.
We definitely intend to take care of the other BBB complaints.
David Noyes, chief financial officer, Global Efficient Energy
Laura Strange of Saginaw had slightly better luck after also receiving the promise of 40 percent savings on her energy bills, but only after hounding the company and then filing a complaint with the BBB.
She, too, paid close to $16,000 for her radiant barrier and five-panel solar array with a loan through a separate finance company used by GEE. Strange said she paid if off in the first year so she would not have to pay interest.
But her electric bills didn’t go down.
“They didn’t change one bit,” she said. “The highest monthly credit I received was 17 cents.”
After several years of trying to work with the company, Strange did receive a $2,500 rebate from GEE after filing a complaint with the BBB.
David Noyes, chief financial officer with GEE, acknowledges that there are customer complaints, although he disputes the $1 million loss figure. He said the company grew too fast to keep up with customer service, but has recently downsized to focus only on Texas.
“The company went from 12 to 4 offices in the fourth quarter,” he said. “We lost some staff, but are restaffing and restoring customer service. Business in Texas has taken off, and our customer service is shored up.”
To facilitate complaints, the company set up a customer service hotline this week. The number is 682-626-5650. A call to the hotline on Friday did not connect to a live person, but allowed the caller to leave a message.
Last year, GEE was ranked 34 in Inc. magazine’s top 5,000 fastest-growing private companies and Abe Issa was named a finalist in Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in the Southwest region. In 2014, GEE was ranked 12th nationally among solar contractors by number of permits by BuildZoom.
A graduate of TCU, Issa has committed $500,000 to the Abe Issa Field Sales Lab within the future Neeley Sales and Consumer Insights Center, part of the new TCU Neeley School of Business facility expected to break ground in 2017.
Global Efficient Energy also is one of the service providers in Oncor’s solar rebate program.
Noyes called the number of complaints from more than 10,000 solar array installations “isolated and rare” and said the company intends to resolve all open complaints with the BBB.
“We definitely intend to take care of the other BBB complaints,” he said. “We were proud of working with the BBB.”
Noyes said the company has changed its practice of guaranteeing a 40 percent savings on energy bills.
“The company had previously but no longer offers savings assurances of up to 40 percent to homeowners that purchased certain systems and followed an energy management program,” he said, in a statement. “Homeowners were required to make adjustments to lifestyle and behavior changes with regard to their energy usage.”
A former GEE employee who worked in customer service, however, says that the business was focused solely on getting customers into the loan program, not providing customer service. The employee, who asked not to be named, said the customer service issues are widespread.
“I don’t believe it’s possible for them to resolve all the customer complaints,” she said. “They have dug a hole for themselves and will do anything to get out of any responsibility to the customer.”
The BBB said its concern is about current nonresponsiveness and the lack of a plan to reach resolutions.
“BBB is a standards-based organization, which is what all decisions for our organization are based on,” Haas said. “We do not take a business’ circumstances into consideration. Despite claims that Global Efficient Energy is improving its business practices and working towards consumer satisfaction, BBB has yet to see an improvement in complaint resolution.”
The BBB said it is seeking other GEE customers who may have complaints about the company. If you have had an unsatisfactory experience, call the BBB at 817-332- 7585 or file a complaint at www.fwbbb.org.
BBB advises consumers to thoroughly check out any company before doing business with them.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net