When I first saw the outline for the State Energy-Efficient Appliance Rebate Program (SEEARP) issued by the U.S. Department of Energy, I thought "retail white goods," and largely put the program out of mind. The SEEARP was one of the first uses of the massive stimulus funding appropriated by the DOE. The intent was to fund state rebates for Energy Star or better home appliances. It wasn't until talking to a number of officials at a National Association of State Energy Officials meeting that I began to understand the potential that SEEARP could hold for HARDI distributors. While yes, SEEARP was best suited for the easily deployable and administrated retail white goods, many energy officials already knew that the biggest energy-saving bang for their buck was HVACR replacements.
HARDI has spent the last two years expanding relationships with utilities and other providers of energy-efficiency incentive programs, promoting the essential role HARDI distributors play in educating and mobilizing their contractor customers to participate in efficiency programs. Our argument is simple: Who else sees, on a regular basis, as many HVACR contractors in any given day, than HARDI distributors?
Further, who else sees so many contractors and also shares a common interest of selling high-efficiency HVACR systems while also having intimate knowledge of their local markets? And finally, what better way is there to reach all of these distributors, many of whom have corporate headquarters far from branches in any given utility service territory, than through their trade association? The simple answers to all these questions have garnered much attention from the utility community, and it didn't take long for state energy offices to follow suit.
Before the SEEARP filing deadline last fall, HARDI sent a letter to every state energy office urging them to focus their programs on high-efficiency HVAC products, to keep rebate funds for professionally installed products separate from those intended for retail products, to involve HARDI in their program design, and to provide HARDI as much time as possible to educate and prepare our members so they can, in turn, do the same for their armies of contractor customers.
To my surprise, our little-known association garnered a wide response from many energy offices, all welcoming our help and many indicating that they'd like nothing more than to focus their program on our products. However, they didn't know how to administer such a program as inexpensively and easily as they could a retail program.
After several months of close work with a number of states, several adopting many of our recommendations, implementation started for a number of them this year. The early returns are amazing. Iowa's HVACR-only program sold out in just one day. Texas' first-ever state rebate program for HVACR products took less than a day to award more than $20 million. In South Carolina, their HVACR funds were committed in just 30 hours while more than $1 million in retail funds remained. Wisconsin had to narrow its program availability dates due to faster-than-anticipated subscriptions (and this despite their unnecessary insistence on requiring a prohibitive EER requirement on cooling equipment).
In each of these instances, HARDI distributors were involved and had access to their state's rebate programs. They were able to prepare and motivate their contractors to promote and pre-sell the programs and, evidently, were extremely successful. This is a formula for success — one that I think we all knew was the case but were unable to quantify. We're not there yet, but we're off to a great start. Should HARDI members be successful at driving this program throughout the country, a strong case will emerge for creating more permanent and well-funded state rebate programs (or larger ones in states with established programs implemented through HARDI distributors) focused more specifically on the greatest energy-saving products with a proven track record of being quickly and efficiently deployed by a knowledgeable and effective wholesale distribution channel. Guess which products they are?
Talbot Gee is vice president of HARDI. Contact him at 614/345-4328 or tgee@HARDInet.org.