Money For Efficient Appliances

Md. Expects $5.4 Million In Stimulus For Purchases

August 26, 2009|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

"Cash for clunkers" may have ended, but consumers will soon have a new way to get federal subsidies: a program that rewards anyone who buys an energy-efficient refrigerator, washing machine or other appliance.

The U.S. has set aside $300 million in stimulus money to give to the states to develop their own programs, and Maryland is slated to get $5.4 million.

The program is expected to spur cautious consumers to open their wallets and give a boost to ailing manufacturers, retailers and the environment. Unlike "cash for clunkers," however, there will be no trade-ins. The only requirement is the purchase of a qualifying Energy Star model.

"We're working with the utility companies that are already running appliance rebate programs," said Christina Twomey Light, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Energy Administration, which will administer the program. "We know the money is coming, and we're absolutely thrilled to put it to good use in near term."

The state is formulating a plan to submit to federal officials by the Oct. 15 deadline.

Jen Stutsman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy, said each state will come up with its own plan. They are being encouraged to also include heating and cooling appliances and water heaters.

Those plans are coming in now and officials expect to approve them quickly, making rebate money available by the end of this year or early next year. In light of the success of "cash for clunkers" - which resulted in an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 vehicles sold - states should be prepared for a quick response from consumers, she said.

Appliances with the government-backed Energy Star rating now account for more than half of sales. They use less water and energy than standard models.

According to BGE, an Energy Star refrigerator can save up to $112 in its lifetime because it requires only about half the energy of models made before 1993. The utility offers a $50 mail-in rebate for buying one.

The company also offers $50 for efficient clothes washers, which use 18-25 gallons of water, compared with 40 gallons on a standard washer, and $25 for qualified room air conditioners that use up to 35 percent less energy than a model 10 years older. The company also offers rebates of up to $400 for heating and cooling systems bought at participating dealers and has other programs to help customers cut their energy use.

Kitchen Aid and GE also have rebate programs, and the federal government offers tax incentives for other energy-efficiency measures such as new windows and insulation and for alternative energy systems. The state offers some matches.

"The whole idea is to offer programs that provide customers ways to manage their energy use," said Ruth Kiselewich, who runs energy-efficiency programs for BGE. "We wanted to provide as many tools as possible so one customer can take advantage of one program and a different customer can take advantage of something else."

She said the rebates and other new programs offered since April, such as quick energy audits, have been gaining popularity as customers learn about them, and could get another boost from the federal program. Already, more than 100 people have sought appliance rebates and more than 2,000 have sought heating and cooling system rebates. About 1,000 have sought the audits, which require a BGE representative to visit the home; they cost $40 but the fee is waived if homeowners make upgrades.

In the next week or so, customers will be able to use BGE's online calculator to outline their specific usage and determine what savings are possible.

The federal rebate program will not require states to recycle old appliances. Some utilities and retailers already offer recycling to their customers. BGE says a refrigerator, for example, that is 10 years old will have more than 120 pounds of recyclable steel, and recycling one will save enough energy to run a new Energy Star machine for 8 months. The company will pick up a refrigerator and freezer from a home and pay the homeowner $50 for each as an incentive to recycle and replace them.

The U.S. Department of Energy said energy savings last year from Energy Star appliances was enough to power 10 million homes and avoid greenhouse gas emissions from 12 million cars. Consumers saved $6 billion. Officials said more than half of appliances now sold are Energy Star.

Jen King, a Home Depot spokeswoman, said the store probably sells a smaller percentage than that but interest from customers is up because of the cost savings.

"We're always looking for ways to provide our customer extra value," she said. "Each state has to come back with a plan, and we're anxious to see what they come back with. We're excited to be part of it."

So are manufacturers.

"Retiring older, less efficient appliances with Energy Star products is the single most cost-effective step a consumer can take to save money and energy," said Joseph M. McGuire, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers president, in a statement. "This rebate program was a top legislative priority of the industry to help stimulate demand and provide immediate energy and utility cost savings."

Possible savings

Last year's energy savings from Energy Star appliances could:

* Power 10 million homes

* Avoid greenhouse gas emissions from 12 million cars

* Save consumers $6 billion.

Information about BGE programs, state programs and rebates can be found at bgesmartenergy.com and

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