Rebates bring out appliance buyers

On Earth Day, state energy credits spur sales

April 22, 2010|By Frank D. Roylance, The Baltimore Sun

Customers in pursuit of big savings on energy-efficient appliances streamed into stores across Maryland on Thursday, ready to spend and happy to grab one of the state's new Cash for Appliances rebates.

The Maryland Energy Administration has $5.4 million in federal economic stimulus grants to pass along to consumers who replace certain older appliances with new models on the state's list of the most energy-efficient products.

"We needed a new refrigerator, and with the different rebates, from BGE and the state, and the sale [at the Sears store in Columbia], it motivated us to get it now," customer Helen Gasper said. She bought a washer and dryer, scoring a $100 state rebate on the washer and $50 energy rebates from BGE on both.

Thursday was the first day for the state's program, and the Sears in Columbia was ready. Doors opened at 6:30 a.m. instead of the usual 10 a.m. The sales staff came in early to handle customers who had made appointments to close deals they'd discussed earlier and to get help filling out the rebate paperwork.

"In the first two hours, we did $25,000," said Chris Baccaro, assistant manager in the appliance department. "Not too shabby. That's probably 900 percent better" than on a normal morning.

Seven other area Sears stores reported similar traffic, said regional manager Larry Trotter. Other area retailers, including Lowe's, Home Depot and Best Buy, were also participating in the state's rebate deal.

Scott Pavegia, operations manager at the Best Buy in Timonium, where the doors opened at 6 a.m. — four hours early — to handle the rebate traffic, said consumers' response to the rebates was strong there, too.

"It's been definitely brisk," he said. "We've had multiple families in today, either to do research, to measure and make sure things fit in the laundry room, or to make a purchase." Phone queries about the rebate program Thursday even exceeded calls about the new iPad.

The best movers were the high-efficiency clothes washers, which can run through a cycle on just 15 gallons of water. "My parents' old machine uses over 55 gallons for the same cycling," running up both the water and the energy bills, Pavegia said.

By early afternoon the Sears store in Columbia had sold 63 washing machines and 19 refrigerators. "It's been great for business," said manager Scott Willis, although the state rebate was only a small part of the draw. With 30 percent store discounts on all Energy Star products this week, one $2,500 Samsung refrigerator sells for $765 less with the sale alone. It qualifies for $50 more off with state rebate, and another $50 from BGE.

Under the state's rules, the washers, refrigerators and heat-pump water heaters must be designated as Tier 2 or 3 Energy Star products to qualify for the Cash for Appliances rebate. That eliminates many, though not all, top-loading washers and refrigerators with water and ice dispensers on the doors, Baccaro said. A qualifying refrigerator will draw a $50 rebate, the washer will bring $100, the heat pump $300. Buyers must apply for the rebates through their utility companies, with forms supplied by the sellers.

The rebate didn't always work as an incentive. Some Sears customers yesterday found they could get faster delivery, or a better deal on some nonqualifying appliances.

Energy Administration officials had no data on how much of the stimulus money consumers may claim from the program's first day, or how long the money will last. That won't be known until the utilities begin processing the applications, and reporting to the state.

"It is being watched very carefully," said MEA spokesman Christina Twomey. She said the state will advise the public as the money is drawn down.

"For families who are already considering buying some of these appliances, a good rule of thumb would be to do it now," she said. "Don't wait."

Other states with similar programs have seen the money dwindle rapidly. Maryland's is expected to last a bit longer because of stricter standards for qualifying appliances.

Helen Gasper, who bought a refrigerator that didn't qualify to go with her washer and dryer, said her current appliances weren't worn out. But they are 19 years old.

"We're really trying to upgrade the appliances to be more efficient," she said. It will save money, she said, and "environmentally, we like to do our part, as well."

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