A Clunker of a Rebate Program

With great fanfare last week, the Office of Energy Independence (OEI) urged Iowans to consider upgrading their home appliances since the Federal government had provided the state with $2.6 million in stimulus funds for rebates. On Monday morning, Iowans responded. And now, many of them have questions about what happened.

The federal government gave states funding to run rebate programs to encourage citizens to purchase energy efficient appliances for the home. In Iowa, the Office of Energy Independence was given the responsibility to administer the program. Iowans were eligible to get rebates of up to $500 on new refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, and furnaces.

OEI projected that the funding would last at least two weeks. The Office had contracted with an outside firm to set up a system whereby Iowans could apply for the rebate over the internet or the phone. OEI boasted that their contractor was more than capable with handling any volume of interest.

When Monday morning arrived, many Iowans attempted to take advantage of the program. What they discovered was a website that they could not access and jammed phone lines. Some shoppers spent hours trying to get through on the phone, while others kept hitting the refresh button. By the middle of the afternoon, the Office of Energy Independence declared victory by announcing that all the refund money had already been claimed. Many Iowans were let wondering if they had gotten any rebate at all.

While it took six hours to hand out the money, it will take a lot longer to figure out why things went so quickly and so badly. After the program was closed, Iowans were still being encouraged to buy appliances, on the chance that someone who claimed a rebate would not file for it and there would be money left over.

Legislators have been swamped with complaints about the failure of OEI’s contractor to handle the program. While the Office is now saying they are conducting an investigation of the situation, it is extremely unlikely that they will produce a report any time soon. But it is possible that legislators will force the officials in charge of the rebate program to explain what went wrong.