State officials have chosen a procedure for doling out Florida's 20 percent appliance rebates that requires access to a computer or someone who can use one.
Fortunately, many retailers are promising to help.
While about one in five Florida households remain computer-free, Gov. Charlie Crist's energy office opted not to offer a telephone priority reservation option because of the cost and expected crush of demand.
Citing a mad rush that swamped phone networks in some other states, most if not all the roughly 66,000 first-come, first-served rebate reservations are expected to be snapped up the first day.
The state Thursday posted detailed instructions online at floridaclimate.com on how to apply up for a rebate. But it was unable to activate the informational Web site that will handle priority reservations as planned.
It did not really matter because you cannot actually try to sign up for a priority rebate until 11 a.m. April 16. That's the first of 10 days through April 25 when appliance sales qualify for rebates.
Buyers have until May 10 to mail in a completed rebate form to the out-of-state rebate processing firm.
Requiring reservations is supposed to eliminate people wasting days of comparison shopping only to discover all the rebate money is gone.
One way or the other, there are other hoops to jump through to cash in. Retailers report plenty of interest and customer confusion already. So far stores only know what they've read in general outlines about the process that was released by Crist's office on Thursday.
The savings can be big. The state estimates you can save $200 on a washer or freezer, $290 on a side-by-side refrigerator and $65 on a room air conditioner.
The appliance version of last summer's government-sponsored cash for clunkers program, the mail-in appliance rebates will be financed from last year's federal economic stimulus program.
The rebates are for a 20 percent discount on six types of appliances — refrigerators, freezers, tankless gas water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines and room air conditioners — that earned the federal Energy Star.
Buyers also can get an extra $75 per appliance if the old energy hog it replaced was properly disposed.
"Plenty of people have been asking about how to qualify, but all we know from the state is what we read," said Manny Tamarga, manager of Jersey Jim Towers TV and Appliance in Clearwater, which will be heavily promoting deep discounts on non-rebate appliances thanks to traffic generated by rebates. "Unfortunately, it's meant a lot of people are putting off buying appliances now."
State officials stuck with only online reservations to keep the administrative bill less than $100,000. They figure saving the money will leave more of the $17.6 million in rebate money for appliance buyers.
Others states have had varied experiences with their share of the $300 million national rebate program. In Iowa, all the rebate money was gone in eight hours. In Michigan, only 16 percent was claimed after the first month.
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.