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Appliance ‘clunkers’ program off and running

The State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program, after four months of development, kicked off last week.

Essentially a cash for clunkers program for appliances, the program offers consumers who buy new Energy Star appliances rebates that range from $50 to $750, based on the price of the new appliance. Appliances have to be purchased on or after April 22 to be eligible.

The Mississippi Development Authority in December received $2.8 million as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund the program, which will last until the money runs out.

According to spokeswoman Sally Williams, the MDA has partnered with about 250 retailers around Mississippi to promote the rebate program.

“Anyone can go and purchase one of these qualifying appliances from any retailer in the state, not just the participating retailers,” Williams said. “The participating retailers have agreed to work with us on this, are knowledgeable of the program and have the ability to answer (consumers’) questions. This is the only stimulus program that’s being administered by our energy division that is specific for Mississippi residents.”

Here’s how it works: A consumer purchases an appliance that is eligible for a rebate. After that, consumers can visit www.mississippirebate.com to download a rebate application or call 1-877-304-4451 to have one mailed. A filled-out application and a copy of the purchase receipt must be mailed within 14 days of the original purchase. The amount of program money still left will be available on the rebate website.

Helgelson Enterprises of White Bear Lake, Minn., will administer the program, something the company has done for several other states that have participated in SEEARP. Karen Bishop, manager of the MDA’s stimulus bureau, said Helgelson will get about $191,000 of the allotted $2.8 million to administer the program.

While the rules of the program are set, what remains uncertain is exactly how long the pool of rebate money will last. Some states have set up their program where consumers reserve their rebate before they purchase a new appliance, others have required consumers to make a purchase and then apply for the rebate, called buy-reserve. “The program has been under development since last summer, but we couldn’t move forward until we were awarded funds, which came in December,” Bishop said. “Every state chose different appliances at different levels and different launch structures. Every state is different. It’s been good for us to see what’s happened in other states and learn some best practices from them.

“It’s really impossible to guess (how long the money will last). We’ve been monitoring some states that structured their program the same way ours is. For example, Georgia’s is the same type of buy-reserve program. Theirs at first was going down about a percentage a day, but has slowed down considerably in the last little bit. They’re looking at probably four or five months. Ballpark, I would guess we’ll probably be in the same boat, but there’s really no way to know. But because our program is buy-reserve, it’s important for consumers to check availability of funds prior to making a purchase.”

Rebates will not come from in the form of a paper check. Instead, consumers will be mailed a prepaid Visa card with the assigned rebate amount.

“We can actually get the Visa prepaid cards for less than face value, so we are able to offer more rebates that way,” Bishop said. “There shouldn’t be any confusion. People can use a Visa card just about anywhere. I don’t anticipate any issues with that.”

Bishop said the prepaid card stipulation is one of the ways the MDA tried to maximize the amount of rebate money available. Because the Department of Energy is requiring a 50/50 match on the administrative costs of the program, the MDA opted to provide Mississippi’s match in the form of “in-kind” promotional services from utility companies.

“They’ve done stuff for us like billing inserts, advertising and things like that. In May, we’ll have half a million billing inserts going out to promote it,” Bishop said. “We’ve done all we can do to make sure that we’re putting as much money into the actual rebate as possible.”

One SEEARP participating retailer in Jackson said there has been some buzz about the program.

“People have e-mailed us, come in and asked about it, called, everything,” said Ralph Flood, appliance buyer for Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City in Jackson. “People are definitely interested in this.”

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