BRADENTON — Buyer beware for those who purchased a new home air conditioning system and expect to get a $1,500 state rebate.
The state now says it can’t promise the $17.5 million worth of rebates will be paid to consumers who complete the required duct testing to purchase and install an energy-efficient air conditioning system.
At least 750 consumers statewide are owed rebates since the state suspended the program last week.
It is unknown when rebates will be paid as the Florida Legislature has not yet authorized the use of the federal stimulus money and may not do so until November.
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“At this point, anyone who continues through the installation or duct testing process should do so with the understanding that a rebate may not be forthcoming,” said Sterling Ivey, press secretary for Gov. Charlie Crist.
Ivey says the Florida Legislature was required to appropriate the money during the 2010 legislative session but because the program wasn’t fully developed, the money was placed in a savings account in the Florida Energy Office rather than a checking account.
Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who is on the Legislative Budget Commission, says the governor’s office should never have announced nor started the program on Aug. 30 before the money was authorized for spending.
“The issue that we’re having stems from the fact that this program wasn’t brought before the Legislature when we did the budget,” Galvano said. “Now the funds have come in from the federal government and our budget would have to have a change to implement the program. The frustration is that this announcement was made prematurely since we didn’t have the program included.”
Despite not having the authorization to spend the rebate money, Ivey said the state never imagined that permission wouldn’t be granted to pay out the rebates.
“The Florida Energy Office received no indication that the Legislature would not provide the spending authority or move the money from the existing account to the program account so the rebate checks could be sent out,” Ivey said.
The frozen funds have created a headache for businesses and consumers alike.
Jaime DiDomenico, president of N&M Cool in Sarasota, had big expectations for the rebate program’s potential for new business.
“We think it stinks,” DiDomenico said of the freeze on rebates. “We installed about 60 systems where customers are expecting this money. I’ve had several cancellations as a result.”
Troy Larkin, renewable energy marketing specialty manager at Tri County Air Conditioning and Heating Inc., said local consumers and the industry are caught in a “political web.”
“It appears that politics is the reason for this,” Larkin said. “I don’t think it’s Republican or Democrat, I think it’s both because Crist chose to run (for U.S. Senate) as an Independent. Yes, the Republicans are mad because he jumped ship but Democrats are afraid Crist will get into office and do some things more toward the conservative side.”
Larkin spent about $10,000 in television, newspaper and radio advertisements, and has several angry consumers who were enticed to install new AC units because of the state’s $1,500 rebate.
“We appear to have egg on our face at this particular point,” Larkin said.
Galvano said the state could have avoided this issue alltogether by waiting for the Legislature’s authorization before rolling out the rebate program.
“People are frustrated and rightly so because they believe that there’s a program ready to go and the reality is it’s not,” Galvano said.