Friday, November 12, 2010

The Latest in Florida Solar Rebate Programs

Under a proposal to be considered Tuesday by the Legislature, Floridians who installed expensive solar panels will get only part of the state rebate they were expecting.

The Legislature is proposing a solution for repaying Floridians who bought energy-efficient air conditioners and solar panels that may make only some buyers happy.

Rebate programs for both items have been on hold for different reasons. The Legislature didn't fund the solar panel program during its spring session, leaving 13,000 people on a list waiting to be paid. The state suspended the air-conditioner rebate offer in September, just two weeks after it started, because the money for the program hadn't been properly approved.

During Tuesday's special session, lawmakers are expected to resurrect both rebate offers, but there will be a catch.

Only people who bought or had a contract for a qualifying new air conditioner between Aug. 31 and Sept. 14 will get a $1,500 rebate. Some people bought new air conditioners after that, when the program was suspended, assuming it would eventually be reinstated. The $15 million budgeted for the program would have paid for 10,000 rebates.

Instead, the 3,000 rebate applications turned in so far would account for about $4.5 million of the $31.3 million in federal stimulus dollars the state is using to pay for both rebate programs.

After paying out the A/C rebates, whatever is leftover will be spread among the thousands waiting for solar rebates -- even though their checks could be worth only half of what they thought they would get when they shelled out for the pricey products in the first place.

The $26.8 million expected to be available is barely half of the $52 million Floridians are expecting in solar energy rebates.

``It seems like they're going to try to cop out,'' said Paul Farren, CEO of The Energy Store in Hollywood. ``Everybody will get about half? That's not fair.''

One of his customers is owed $20,000 in rebates for solar panels he installed in January 2009. Others borrowed money to pay for the products.

He wrote a letter to legislators asking them to reconsider.

``The one thing I ask of you is that you do not let these citizens down. They stepped up to the plate and were doing the right thing,'' Farren wrote. ``Even if you have to let many applicants wait longer for their rebates, you should pay the full amount of that which was originally promised to those who are owed. Pay them on a first-come, first-served basis, as you have been doing, until the existing funds run out.''

But in an e-mail, House Speaker Dean Cannon's spokeswoman said the partial rebates are the best the state can offer.

``The proposed solution attempts to provide an equitable solution to both the HVAC and Solar Rebate Programs within available resources,'' Katie Betta wrote.

Florida's solar rebate program started in 2006 and offered rebates worth $4 per watt of energy produced by solar panel systems, $500 for solar-powered water heaters and $100 for swimming pool heaters through June 30. Rebates were limited to up to $20,000 per homeowner. A similar program offered businesses up to $100,000 in rebate money.


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