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Florida plans rebate for energy-efficient appliances

BRADENTON — Congress brought the auto industry “cash for clunkers,” and now the state of Florida is working to bring a rebate program to the appliance industry.

The state will allocate $17.5 million in federal stimulus funds to issue rebates to consumers who purchase energy-efficient appliances.

The Florida Energy and Climate Commission must still establish the rules and guidelines for the program and determine when it will be implemented, Brittany Cummins, a spokeswoman in the governor’s office, said Monday. A specific timeframe has not yet been set, but more details are expected by late fall.

So far, allocating rebates of 20 percent to the following energy-efficient appliances are being considered: refrigerators, clothes washers, freezers, dishwashers, room air conditioners and humidifiers.

Tom Jessup, owner of Jessup’s Appliance Warehouses, said he likes the potential the program has for his three appliance warehouses located in Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice.

“I’m sure it would give a boost to all the local appliance stores,” Jessup said. “I think it would be a good thing for the retail side and a good savings for the public.”

As with other retailers reporting losses, first-quarter sales declines have been reported by several big box companies that sell appliances.

Home Depot reported a 9.7 percent first-quarter sales decline, to $16.2 billion in 2009 from $17.9 billion in 2008. Lowe’s saw a first-quarter sales decline to $11.8 billion, from $12 billion over the same period last year, and Sears reported a first-quarter loss of $1 million to $10.1 billion.

One bright spot — Best Buy — reported a 12 percent increase in first-quarter sales to $10.1 billion, up from $9 billion in the first quarter of 2008.

At Direct Maytag Home Appliance Center in Bradenton, Office Manager Julie Gaw estimates sales have declined about 20 percent from last year.

“People buy appliances when they have to have them, so that’s the kind of sales we’re getting, where before people we’re doing remodeling and things like that,” Gaw said. “If they’re going to give (consumers) a rebate, then hopefully our sales will go up. I would imagine if it goes as good as the cash for clunkers, it would be pretty good.”

Kevin Furlong, store manager at Aaron’s Sales, agreed. A 20 percent rebate could be enough to convince consumers to upgrade a home appliance, he said.

“It would probably influence them a lot,” Furlong said.

Gov. Charlie Crist earlier this year approved the program, using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help Floridians lower utility costs.

“Floridians and businesses who invest in green technologies and energy-efficient appliances are strengthening our economy, increasing our energy independence and reducing greenhouse emissions,” Crist said in a news release.

But for retailers, the program may come at a key time for fourth quarter sales if the rebates are implemented later this year.

Jessup said his stores saw a slight sales increase in the past three months and, as a result, he hired two salesmen.

“We have a pretty loyal following because our price structure is more competitive with big box stores,” Jessup said.

But in the first three months of the year, Jessup saw sales decline, and he said there’s no telling how consumer spending will be at the end of the year.

“It’s challenging times for everybody,” Jessup said. “This is the deepest recession I’ve seen in my lifetime. Any little bit right now helps.”

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