Cash for appliances program overwhelmedby Sunny Thao, Minnesota Public Radio,
Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A new federally funded appliance rebate program was overwhelmed with calls and requests made through a Web site today, and many Minnesotans were still having a hard time getting through.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce's Office of Energy Security hired a vendor to handle the reservation requests for the Minnesota Trade-in & Save Appliance Rebate Program, but the phone lines and Web site for the program weren't up at 8 a.m. as scheduled, said Commerce Department spokeswoman Nicole Garrison-Sprenger.
Garrison-Sprenger said officials are working with the vendor, Helgeson Enterprises of White Bear Lake, to figure out what happened. The phone lines were up by 10 a.m. and the Web site was working by 11:15 a.m.
In a statement, Helgeson Enterprises blamed the overwhelming response for the slow start. The company said both the phone number and Web site were working and that people seeking rebates should keep trying if they can't get through.
The statement also said there was suspicious activity on the Web site, including a large number of hits from sites that don't appear to be related to retailers.
To make up for the delays, the phone line will be taking calls until 9 p.m. tonight instead of 7 p.m., Garrison-Sprenger said.
By 4 p.m. Monday, 53 percent of the rebate funds for clothes washers, 44 percent for dishwashers, 21 percent for freezers and 26 percent for refrigerators had been reserved.
The rebate program allows the old appliances to be replaced with a qualified Energy Star model purchased from a Minnesota retailer.
More than 25,000 Minnesota households will benefit from the rebate, and only one rebate is allowed per household.
Commerce Department officials said Energy Star appliances can save up to $75 annually in energy costs.
The appliance rebate program, is funded with more than $5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The program is expected to save more than 2.2 million kilowatt hours in energy.
The rebate phone line will stay open until 9 Monday night to make up for downtime Monday morning.
(Martin Moylan contributed to this report.)