'Cash for Refrigerators:' Like Clunkers, But For Appliances

Cash for refrigerators? Yes, and other appliances. The government hopes a new incentive program will help the economy and the environment, persuading people it's time to replace that old washing machine.

A program that kicks in late this fall will offer consumers cash to help buy new home appliances. You could get a rebate of $50 to $200 for buying a new, more energy-efficient appliance to replace one in your kitchen.

The details are still being worked out. They will vary from state to state. State governments have until Oct. 15 to send detailed plans to Washington. The federal government has set aside $300 million for the program as part of the economic stimulus plan.

There's no trade-in required, as in the government's "cash for clunkers" deal with consumer car trade-ins. But rebate checks will be issued that can be used to cover everything from refrigerators and dishwashers to furnaces and air conditioners.

The Department of Energy hopes to encourage conservation by getting consumers to replace old, wasteful appliances with new, more efficient Energy Star certified machines. But the appliance industry, reeling from the recession and a drop in sales, also hopes the rebates will provide a much-needed sales boost.

In 2008, the government says, about 55 percent of new appliances sold met the requirements for an Energy Star label. The cash-for-refrigerators plan will be in addition to incentive programs already run by many states -- though there's no saying the federal money will get people to buy new appliances instead of fixing their old ones when money is tight.

"This stimulus certainly is needed," said Jill Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. "Our industry is down 15 percent for the year, and we were down in 2008 as well. So this is very needed."

Each state will write its own rules for doling out the rebates. The state plans will be reviewed by the Department of Energy starting in late October, and money could start flowing to consumers by November, though some states may need a few more months to implement the program.

Notini said at least 25 states already have rebate programs on the books.

"This will just add more money to the kitty" in those states, she said. Most of those rebates are in the $50 to $200 range, "and that's the ballpark that this will be in."

But for the rest of the states and territories, this will create an entirely new program.

Consumers should check with their state's energy department for details on when the rebates will be available. Links to information about stimulus projects by state can be found on the Energy Department's Recovery Act Web site.

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