A new heat pump system is installed at Susan Levine's home in...

A new heat pump system is installed at Susan Levine's home in Coram by HVAC Plus of Great Neck last week. Credit: Susan Levine

A Coram retiree who spent two frustrating months trying to navigate a PSEG low-income program to replace her old heat pump expressed relief Thursday after a new system was installed at a price she considered fair: $2,800.

Perhaps just as gratifying as a result of her complaints, PSEG on Friday said it's considering changes to the program.

"We are currently reviewing the income-qualified heat-pump program activity against originally planned assumptions in an attempt to determine if there are opportunities to further strengthen" it, said PSEG Long Island spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin. PSEG "will announce any updates as they become available."

The customer, Susan Levine, first detailed her plight in a Newsday story earlier this month. She complained of high estimates that required her to buy the most expensive equipment on the market, a rebate program that still left her paying $6,700 or more, loan offers she did not want, and authorized installers who specialized in insulation, not heat pumps. Inefficient backup heat from her old system cost her $22 a day waiting for a new system, she said, doubling her daily usage.

In the end, PSEG helped connect Levine with a qualified installer and arrange for her to get an $11,200 system for $2,800. She credited Newsday's story and an inquiry by state Attorney General Letitia James' office for helping.

“The heat is working fine, but the process is horrible,” she said. She said she believes the process was smoothed for her “because I was a pain in the tush,” but said her concern is for other low-income customers who may not fight so hard.

PSEG “has to do a lot better,” she said. “The program is not working.”

A new heat pump system is installed at Susan Levine's home...

A new heat pump system is installed at Susan Levine's home in Coram by HVAC Plus of Great Neck last week. Credit: Susan Levine

PSEG’s Home-Comfort Plus program uses a $4.5 million settlement reached by the attorney general last year following an unrelated National Grid investigation, to fund 80% to 100% of the cost of systems for those who qualify as low income. Newsday reported that only 20 customers had received rebates toward heat-pump purchases as of February, subsidizing 40% to 80% of their systems.

The attorney general's office said it will “continue to work with LIPA to make sure the program is working as it’s supposed to.”

PSEG manages the Long Island Power Authority's electric grid.

James, in a statement, said she was “glad the program is fulfilling its commitment to help low-income New Yorkers and that this customer [Levine] is finally getting the service she needs and deserves.”

LIPA last week said it was "in the process of evaluating the data that has come in on customer participation and rebate totals to ensure the program is working as expected. If our review finds that project costs are unreasonably high, we will investigate." LIPA "may revisit rebate sizing within the next year."

Levine cautioned customers who may face the same difficulties she did to study their contracts, avoid loans, and don’t sign anything until they have checked it over carefully and are comfortable with the contract language. She also recommended that PSEG create standards for the program so customers don’t face the large number of daunting decisions and variety of estimates she did.

Michael Nikfar, owner of HVAC Plus of Great Neck, whose company installed Levine's system, said he believed uniform pricing and program standardization would be “almost impossible” given the breadth of installers, products and homes on Long Island. “It’s consumers’ responsibility to find out who they want to hire,” he said.

In Levine’s case, Nikfar said, he was able to give her a quote and approval for rebates in short order, and get the system installed in a week. He tipped his hat to Levine as a “tough customer,” but added, “It sounds like she was going through hell getting a system.”

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