Clunkers gone, appliances next
Preparations begin for rebate program
BY LAURA RUANE
Federally funded rebates to coax us into buying resource-saving appliances are still a few months from rollout, but the $300 million program already is generating buzz at local businesses.
Details of the program, nicknamed "dollars for dishwashers," will largely be decided by the states. Florida’s Energy and Climate Commission is hammering out the rules, facing an Oct. 15 deadline to get its plan to the U.S. Department of Energy.
At least one company said it’s jump-starting the program with an additional discount of about $300 it believes will be comparable to the rebate for central air conditioning systems.
"I can cut my prices, and survive," said Kevin Cassidy, owner of Fort Myers-based Positive Air Conditioning LLC.
"The whole purpose of the new rebate program is to make us less dependent on foreign oil," Cassidy said. "It’s a win-win for business and consumers."
The $300 million plan, funded through the federal government’s economic stimulus, allocates $17.5 million for Florida.
It is shaping up differently than the cash for clunkers program to buy new cars. That program ran out of money and needed an extra cash infusion. For the appliance program, the federal government is delegating most of the legwork to states.
Participating states will decide such things as what kinds of appliances are eligible, what rebate amounts will be paid and how they will be processed.
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends states focus on such appliances as clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerator/freezers, room air conditioners, water heaters, central air conditioners and heat pumps. Early discussions between state organizations and the Energy Department indicate most states will apply the program to a shorter list of two to five appliance categories.
One criterion appears certain: The products will be Energy Star-rated, residential appliances.
It’s unclear whether people who buy energy-thrifty appliances sooner than January will be eligible for the rebates. "We tell consumers to save their receipts," said Jeremy Susac, energy point man for Gov. Charlie Crist.
In Southwest Florida, many people ask about Energy Star-rated products "because electricity – and even water costs – are skyrocketing," said Mark Latham, sales manager for Good Deals Appliance Center in south Fort Myers.
However, "most people don’t replace a major product before it breaks down. (The new rebate program) might generate more business for us," Latham said.
Meanwhile, "we give discounts to customers as if they were builders," Latham said. That strategy "is working well. Our business is up over last year."
When the rebate program debuts, one of the first customers could be Taruas Pugh, 27, who wants to replace a used washer and dryer pair he purchased at auction after buying a home in Lehigh Acres.
"That’s very cool," Pugh said when a reporter described the early basics of the rebate program.
Pugh said the energy-efficient appliances he priced at The Home Depot and Lowe’s don’t fit his budget, especially after his work hours were cut because of the recession.
He’s inclined to wait to see whether the upcoming rebate program will work for him. Meanwhile, the dryer conked out. Said Pugh: "I’m thinking about putting up a clothesline."
2005: Congress authorizes the State Energy Efficient Appliance Program, but provides no money.
2009: Program is funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Aug. 15: Initial applications due from states.
Sept. 30: 10 percent of funds awarded to states.
Oct. 15: Program plans due from states.
Nov. 30: Balance of funds goes to states.
January: Rebates available to consumers.
Feb. 17, 2012: Program ends no later than this; funds could run out sooner.
SOURCES: U.S. Department of Energy; Florida Energy and Climate Commission