National Grid: Fear Monger, Scam Artist?

National Grid seems to have joined the ranks of such scam artists as vinyl siding salesmen and certain car mechanics.  Judge for yourself, based on this experience of one of our neighbors, without heat and hot water for five days due to the storm. When Alison and Hal got the basement dry enough to attempt to light the furnace and the hot water heater, she called National Grid, thinking this successor to the estimable Boston Gas was honest and reliable. Boy, was she in for a surprise.

A “technician” arrived at the house, and the first words out of his mouth were “did they tell you that this visit would cost a minimum of $165?”. Of course, “they” had not, but at this point, as Alison put it, $165 was feeling like a small price to pay for a hot shower and heat for her family.

The “technician” spent all of three minutes in the basement and then declared that both the water heater and boiler were “condemned.” In a tone calculated to instill fear, he explained that the hot water heater was designed to shut down permanently once the offending groundwater reached a certain level – “the newer models are all built like that.”  He quickly moved to page two of the scare tactics and con job. He said that the insulation on the inside of the boiler got wet and that, once it dried, it would crumble and could result in a fire “or worse”. He said their only option was to replace both the hot water heater and the boiler. National Grid would be happy to do so for the mere sum of $7,000, at which time he required a 50 percent deposit for any work agreed to.

After the sticker shock wore off, Alison called her local plumber to explain the situation and to ask if he installs boilers and hot water heaters. He did, but said it was unlikely that new equipment was needed. He had spent the entire day starting up other flood victims’ heaters and even those under more water were now working just fine. He asked if the National Grid technician had attempted to do certain things to start both pieces of equipment. When Alison replied that the inspection only lasted a few minutes and that none of those steps had been taken, the plumber said she was being misled and taken advantage of. Alison said she had heard similar stories about similar National Grid tactics from other flood victims in the city.

Alison’s flood cleanup crew from New England Carpet Cleaning, which has been providing stellar 24/7 service,  returned, and with a few quick adjustments restarted both the furnace and the hot water heater. The insulation that had gotten wet and supposedly put her family in such danger was wet less than an inch deep and was simply removed.  Everything else inside was dry. Her plumber came today and approved the repair. As Alison recounts: “The National Grid technician disconnected some parts that rendered the burner inoperable, then quickly declared our boiler ‘condemned.’ He literally wrote this scary word on our receipt. But our flood cleanup crew reconnected the parts and we were back in business.”

Alison, Hal and the kids had their first night with warm house and hot showers, but of course they are furious. They immediately called National Grid to cancel their appointment for today’s hot water heater replacement, requested an immediate refund of the deposit they were required to make, and asked to speak to someone about getting their $165 service fee refunded . As she put it, clearly the only service they got was a snow job. They were told that a supervisor and a person from the sales department would call, but, surprise, they have yet to hear from either one of them.

When National Grid took over Keyspan, formerly Boston Gas, in August 2007, Attorney General Martha Coakley expressed concern for Massachusetts customers and called for serious oversight by the Department of Public Utilities. It’s time for Coakley’s office to look seriously at complaints like Alison’s and identify if these were the renegade tactics of a rogue National Grid  technician, a pattern of practice among field employees, encouraged and winked at by the company, or an actual National Grid corporate policy.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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