The federal cash-for-clunkers program is so passe. Now the government is playing rebates-for-refrigerators and money-for-washing-machines.
Last summer's federal program fueled vehicle sales and jump-started the sputtering auto industry by enticing customers to trade in their gas guzzlers. Now retailers are hoping for a similar boost from another government program that will offer rebates of up to $200 for energy-efficient appliances.
Starting Thursday, which happens to be Earth Day, consumers will be able to vie for rebates on Energy Star-rated appliances: $200 for refrigerators, $100 for clothes washers and $50 for air conditioners. The program applies only to those appliances.
Coupled with tax credits, buyback recycling programs and other incentives offered by stores, utilities and manufacturers, some savvy buyers could end up spending less than half the sticker price for appliances.
Appliance stores are bracing for a swarm of shoppers Thursday.
Howard's Appliances Inc., which has 11 stores throughout the Southland, has stocked up to three times more products than it normally carries and has sent out letters to its customers promoting the rebate. The company is planning to pull staff from its corporate offices, warehouse and service center to work through the weekend on the sales floor, which will open three hours early at 7 a.m. Thursday.
"It's all hands on deck — we really think it's going to be huge," said Chief Executive Judy Lawrence. "Over the first four days, we'll probably bring in four times the amount of normal business."
But the rebates are limited. California was allocated $35.3 million for the program, and state officials expect to issue about 300,000 rebates. Other states that offered the program ran out of money quickly. Florida's $17.6-million program ran out of funds a day after it was launched, while the $2.9 million set aside in Iowa was depleted within hours.
The rebate frenzy may not be as bad in California, however. Buyers may be in less of a rush because the state demands that the products meet higher energy standards than in many other states, making eligible appliances more expensive.
The California Energy Commission is administering the program, which is being funded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stimulus, which was passed last year, set aside $300 million for states to distribute rebates on environmentally friendly home appliances.
The mail-in rebate will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis based on the postmark date on the claim form, which can be downloaded from the energy commission's website Thursday.
The website will also feature a countdown that will track the amount of money remaining in the state pot. Sales will officially run through May 23, and buyers must mail in their claim form within 30 days of purchase.
With the government rebate, the savings can be substantial.
On top of the $200 rebate, both Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power offer up to $100 to customers who buy an Energy Star-certified refrigerator and then recycle an older one.
Edison also has a $50 rebate for energy-efficient air conditioner, and customers can get $35 from Southern California Gas Co. for an environmentally friendly clothes washer.
Some Energy Star-certified appliances, such as certain air conditioning units, are also eligible for federal tax credits.
Starting Thursday, a Bosch Vision 800 Series clothes washer, for example, could end up costing $1,000 less than the retail price.
Sears, which will open at 6 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and is offering an additional 30% off all Energy Star-certified appliances, is discounting the washer to $1,063 from more than $1,500. A buyer could save an additional $600 — the $100 government cash rebate, a $200 prepaid Visa card from Bosch and up to $300 in rebates through the SoCal WaterSmart program. The buyer could end up having spent only $500 for the washer.
"We expect a great turnout," said Kathryn Gallagher, spokeswoman for Home Depot, which starting Thursday is offering free pickup and delivery for those buying appliances under the rebate program. "The money's probably going to run out pretty quickly, especially because Californians tend to be the leading consumers in environmentally friendly products."