By Diane C. Lade, Sun Sentinel
7:34 p.m. EDT, September 28, 2010
U.S. Department of Energy officials say Florida will not lose federal grant funding for its "cash-for-clunker" air-conditioner rebates if state officials miss the Thursday deadline to authorize spending the cash. But the program still is frozen and probably will remain so until the Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee in November.
Republican legislative leaders continue to insist a full legislative vote is required to get the rebates rolling to Florida homeowners who replace their central air-conditioning units with higher-efficiency models. Gov. Charlie Crist still contends such approval is not required and could be done by the legislative budget committee.
Representatives with the Department of Energy said Tuesday that the deadline for the state allocating the money was flexible and the agency did not want to pull the grant.
"We have not received any definitive response as to when the money would go back to Washington if it's not spent. So we are hopeful the Legislature will act soon," said Sterling Ivey, Crist's spokesman.
In the meantime, homeowners whose air-conditioning installations are completed can send in their rebate applications. But new forms no longer can be downloaded from the program's website at http://www.rebates.com/floridahvac.
So far,1,480 applications have been submitted. They are being logged in by their arrival day so rebates can be issued on a first come, first served basis as promised, Ivey said, but they are not yet being processed.
The Governor's Energy Office, which is managing the program, has said the $17.5 million allocation from the 2009 economic recovery act would be enough for about 10,000 rebates statewide. Homeowners could receive $1,500 back on new energy-efficient units that they purchased beginning Aug. 30 through the end of the year or until the money ran out.
Now consumers must decide if the upgrade is worth the risk. Cheryl Harris, executive director of the Florida Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Contractors Association, said member contractors are cautioning their customers that the rebates are not guaranteed and the program could be killed.
About 30 percent to 50 percent of clients with jobs in the pipeline have canceled them or put them on hold, Harris said. The state could lose about $4 million in sales tax revenue, Harris said, as well as millions in income tax revenue and permit fees.
Most consumers who go ahead with new systems before Dec. 31 still will qualify for the expiring federal energy tax credit, which is 30 percent of purchase price with a maximum of $1,500. But if they want to gamble on getting the state rebate, too, they'll need to spend an extra $350 to $700 for duct testing, and possibly more for duct repairs.
The federal tax credit has no duct testing requirements.
Along with the air–conditioning-rebate allocation, the disputed grant also contained $13.9 million for the Florida Solar Rebate Program. That initiative, which opened four years ago, racked up $52 million in backlogged rebate payments before it was officially declared out of money — and has been a controversial target.
Some legislators have called it help for the wealthy few who can afford solar systems. But other lawmakers have said the 10,000 home and business owners who installed solar panels or water heaters did so assuming they would get rebates.
State Rep. Maria Lorts Sachs, D-Delray Beach, last week urged the Senate and House leadership to immediately allocate the air conditioning rebate money but said nothing about the solar program. Ivey said it would be possible to approve the programs separately.
Diane Lade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4295.