Thousands of Florida residents are awaiting rebate checks from the state under a program promoting solar equipment installation.
Created in 2006 to jump-start Florida’s burgeoning solar industry, the program has run into a snag: It has been out of money for the past 12 months. And though the program is set to expire on June 30, questions about promised rebates remain.
“The program officially ends this month, so we were all prepared for that,” said Scott Egglefield, president/owner of Mirasol Fafco Solar Inc. in Nokomis, Fla. “The problem was customers who thought they were going to get their money back from the state.”
Four years ago, Florida launched an effort to promote renewable energy by offering homeowners $100 rebates for installing solar swimming pool heaters, $500 for solar water heaters, and $4 per watt of energy generated through solar panel systems, up to $20,000 per homeowner. Businesses also were eligible for rebates on solar water heaters and panels.
For the first couple of years, the state funded the program. Then last year, Florida received approximately $14.4 million in federal stimulus money to put toward rebates for residential and commercial installations.
And the program thrived — so much so, in fact, that the state apparently failed to keep pace with demand, resulting in more than 10,000 applications submitted since funding dried up in June 2009, according to the Florida Energy & Climate Commission.
“We didn’t actually know it was hopeless until October of last year,” Egglefield said.
“We asked whether we should keep selling the program or not, and [the commission] told us to keep selling it,” he added. “We’ve been very clear with our customers that it’s the state’s responsibility. But there were a lot of newcomers to this industry who were guaranteeing the rebates, and those are the ones who are going to have a lot of upset customers.”
In Bradenton, Fla., Dale Gulden was continuing to submit rebate applications through June, despite the fact he’s heard the state is looking at a $25 million backlog. Though a bit frustrating, it’s a testament to the success of the program, as well as the clean energy movement in general, said Gulden, founder/CEO of Solar Direct.
As for solar pool heaters, Gulden believes the savings in decreased energy use essentially justifies the installation, rebates or not.
“Why do you have to motivate these people at all?” he said of homeowners considering solar. “There’s plenty of motivation in what the technology does.”