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News > Features > 01/01/2009  

Utility program resembles dealer network, contractors say  - by 

One national contractors group fears a return to the bad old days as Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc., Scarborough, Ont., gauges interest in a new program that strongly resembles a dealer network. Enbridge recently asked Ontario HVAC/R dealers if they would be interested in participating in its new EnergyLink program, which is designed to connect participating Enbridge Gas Distribution customers with pre-qualified EnergyLink contractors and retailers. While contractors generally welcome utility promotional programs, this initiative goes well beyond promotion and crosses the line into market control, remarked HRAC chair Nancy McKeraghan (Canco Climatecare Heating and Air Conditioning, Newmarket, Ont.) in a letter to Howard Wetston, chairman of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB). The program & seeks to administer (and ultimately control) the dispensing of business leads, up to and including tracking contractor performance in the handling of those leads, she added. And it basically takes the industry back into the dark ages of the Consumers Gas Authorized Network, which ended in the mid-nineties, remarked Martin Luymes, HRAI senior director, administration and HRAC. Many contractors relied on the gas utility for the majority of their business. This left them with little to compete on except price when they, along with two other contractors, were referred to a customer. And the leads could quickly dry up if the contractor got on the wrong side of the gas company. The result was a continuous downward pressure on pricing. A little more than five years ago Enbridge sold the business formerly handled by its dealer network to Direct Energy. A non-compete agreement related to that deal expired May 31. Many in the industry believe that anticipation of this date triggered the launch of the EnergyLink program, remarked Luymes. But the industry has matured, he added. Most contractors have learned how to promote their own businesses. Most will look back and say, now I generate my own leads. However, many will have little option but to join EnergyLink because failing to do so will make it appear that the gas company does not endorse them. HRAC representatives met with Enbridge officials several times in an effort to have them modify the program to address the HRAC concerns. However, the group ended those discussions when they became counterproductive. It seemed to us, after a while, that we were just helping Enbridge to build a better mousetrap  and independent contractors were the mice, remarked Luymes.

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