A California utility company is using an aggressive rebate program to encourage the installation of variable-speed pumps by qualified professionals. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power recently doubled its rebate offer from $500 to $1,000 on select variable-speed pumps. However, there is one major caveat: For a homeowner to cash in on the incentive, the new pump must be installed by a certified professional.

LADWP’s $500 kickback on approved pumps has been standard for some time and still is available to anybody who replaces their single-speed pump with an approved variable-speed model. (See list below.) But in February the utility sweetened the deal by tacking on the certified installer incentive.

Officials hope that will encourage consumers to seek out qualified technicians to install and program the units correctly. The addendum also requires that the pumps operate during off-peak hours at a low-speed default to ease stress on the grid.

In anticipation of major consumer demand, contractors are scrambling to become certified. “When all of a sudden they went to $1,000, [contractors] realized they needed to get some education to install these things right if they’re putting out that big of bucks per unit,” said Michael Orr, executive director of the Foundation for Pool & Spa Industry Education.

The Sacramento-based organization’s Certified Aquatic Equipment Installers course and certain manufacturers’ training programs count among those that qualify contractors for LADWP’s rebate program.

The LADWP is essentially following the lead of other utility providers in the state — though its incentive is easily the largest. Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Southern California Edison also accept CAEI training.

PG&E spearheaded the certification program, then tapped FPSIE to conduct training in 2013, Orr said. So far, about 1,500 contractors have been certified by FPSIE, Orr said, which conducts the eight-hour course at its Sacramento facility and various classrooms across the state.

However, with 1.2 million pools in California potentially eligible for rebates, Orr estimates that it will take about 4,000 CAEIs to meet demand. That’s why the organization intends to take the course online, with a multimedia presentation and timed test. That will require a major overhaul of FPSIE’s IT infrastructure. Orr pegs the cost at about $50,000, for which the group is actively raising funds.

The distance-learning program may become available to pool contractors outside California if the CAEI program catches on with power companies in other states. For that to happen, the Consortium of Energy Efficiency, an organization that helps implement energy-savings programs, would have to endorse the course. Just don’t expect anything to happen overnight.

“I think they’re waiting to see the outcome of the California experience,” Orr said.

List of LADWP-approved pumps