Business

gua: Rebate program may energize appliance sales hit by economy


Appliances at Martin Appliance Center are tagged with energy guides for customers.

ERICA BROUGH/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 3:12 p.m.

Florida's cash-for-appliances rebate program is scheduled to last 10 days, but based on responses in other states, is projected to run out of its $17.6 million in funding on the first day.

Florida's share of $300 million in federal stimulus funds will be available starting April 16 and will be available through April 25 or until the money runs out, whichever comes first.

"I really do think the money's going to go the first day," said Brenda Buchan, program manager with the Florida Energy & Climate Commission.

Florida's version of the program will rebate 20 percent of the retail cost before taxes for Energy Star-rated appliances. Based on median prices, that will result in $290 in savings on refrigerators, $200 each for clothes washers, freezers and dishwashers, $65 on room air conditioners and $40 on humidifiers, according to the governor's office.

Rebates also are available on gas tankless water heaters.

Each household can receive a rebate on one of each type of appliance for up to $1,500.

Customers also can receive an additional $75 for proof of recycling an old appliance.

Jeff Martin, co-owner of Martin Appliance Center, said states such as Iowa, with similarly aggressive rebates, ran through their allotment quickly, while Georgia's program "did not generate much response."

Iowa's program - with rebates of $100 to $500, including $500 for the most efficient refrigerator - was over in one day. Georgia's program, offering $30 to $199, with $50 for any refrigerator, started on Feb. 12 and is ongoing.

The rebates are available by reservation on a first-come, first-served basis. The state estimates it will be able to take about 66,000 reservations. Customers must first buy the appliances, starting on April 16, and then make a reservation for the rebate at a Web site to be set up later.

The site will include a counter with the remaining rebate amount so "they will be able to see whether they have a chance of getting a reservation and whether any money is available," Buchan said.

Rebate applications and receipts must then be mailed by May 10.

Martin said his stores will have a midnight opening to get an early start. They also have set up a Web site, myfloridarebates.com, with information about the program and a way to reserve an appliance.

National chain stores have not started advertising the Florida program in their circulars, but all have information at their Web sites.

Best Buy, Home Depot and hhgregg sites link to Department of Energy or Energy Star Web sites for specific information by state. Lowe's site shows what appliances are eligible and available at the closest store, while Sears has an application to check the savings on each eligible appliance make and model.

With so many different Energy Star products to choose from, Martin said he has not speculated by stocking up on too many ahead of time, but is taking orders from people who have already reserved specific items.

Customers can buy and reserve rebates for items not yet in stock as long as they have delivery by May 10 to provide the required serial number, Buchan said.

She cautioned that with other large states, such as Texas and Illinois, starting their programs on the same day, manufacturers could have a hard time keeping up with demand.

The rebates will be in the form of prepaid American Express cards. Recipients will have the option of converting them to cash, but Buchan said, "We're really hoping most everybody will use it as a prepaid card - go out to dinner, buy other things from retailers, visit Florida attractions - to further stimulate the economy with those funds."

The state is shooting to have the final details about the program on a Web site to be announced by April 1, she said.

The program was designed to stimulate retail sales and promote energy efficiency.

Martin said business is already up "dramatically" this year over last year, especially for General Electric products.

In addition to early rebate reservations, he has had customers come in to plan their rebate purchases, and even buy used appliances after their old ones break down to tide them over until they can purchase a new rebate model later.

Contact Anthony Clark at 374-5094 or anthony.clark@gvillesun.com.

Anthony Clark is the Gainesville Sun business editor.

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