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After Bugs, Appliance Rebate Program Rapidly Concludes

A Massachusetts rebate program aimed at persuading consumers to trade in energy-sucking appliances for more miserly ones ended two hours after it began as enough residents registered for the $6.6 million in federal stimulus funding.

Earlier Thursday, the program, which operated on a first-come, first serve basis, proved too popular for the state's computer system, crashing a server officials had boasted would be ready for the task.

The 10 a.m. Earth Day launch of the rebates aimed at ridding the electrical grid of old dishwashers, refrigerators, clothes washers and freezers immediately caused a jam on the phone number consumers needed to dial for a necessary rebate reservation.

And things were initially no better online, where people clicking on a designated website found the message, "Access is denied. You do not have permission to view this directory or page using the credentials that you supplied."

An hour after the program launched, the state announced an alternate website. Then, two hours later, it ran out of cash. An hour after that, the state stopped taking names for a waitlist for any unclaimed rebates.

The president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, Jon Hurst, called the program an "outstanding success" and says retailers are ready for the surge in customers.

"They're all excited about it, and now that the money has been spoken for, the consumers will be going out to the stores and, frankly, comparison shopping," Hurst said. "There's a lot of great opportunities out there."

A spokeswoman for the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said she suspects heavy volume jammed the services early on, causing the website switch.

"We were getting calls from people before, well before 10 o'clock when the program was supposed to launch, so I think people got into the queue, tried to call even before it went live," said spokeswoman Lisa Capone.

Buyers could receive a rebate of up to $250 for dishwashers, $200 for refrigerators, $175 for clothes washers and $50 for freezers. Consumers had to get a reservation number and rebate forms must be returned by June 19.

Earlier:

This program aired on April 22, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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