Michigan add-on/replacement (AOR) HVACR contractors, like many other contractors across North America, are getting socked from many sides during these trying economic times.

There are overtures to price-shopping consumers from residential new construction (RNC) contractors who face a virtual nonexistent market; and the garage mechanics who have been laid off from their full-time jobs.

Now comes competition from another side - a side that is no stranger to the market and has always been plying customers away from contractors. I’m talking about utility companies. In particular, Michigan utility DTE Energy. This giant with deep pockets recently advertised a 12-point central air conditioner check-up for $78, a “savings” of $20 off the original $98 fee. And in addition, DTE Energy is guaranteeing that any central air conditioner they check will work all summer or the checkup fee will be refunded.

I know some of you are saying, “Big deal, it’s only a 12-point inspection and we do a more complete checkup” or “We have a loyal customer base that sees the value in our service.”

That’s fine, but in a down economy people are looking for the best deal. And this offering from the utility appears to be a very good deal.

Now the good contractors from a struggling community have been punched in the stomach again. It doesn’t feel good, especially coming from a regulated utility company with a lot of ratepayer money to spend.

Does that sound right to you? Maybe it’s time to call your congressperson again.