Starting today, your old clunky fridge could be worth cold hard cash.
California's Cash for Appliances programs gives consumers rebates with the purchase of a new energy-efficient refrigerator, washer or room air conditioner and recycling of an old one.
The $35.2 million program funded through the federal stimulus bill is meant to kick-start consumer spending and remove energy-inefficient products from households.
The first-come, first-serve mail-in rebate program will give buyers $200 for a refrigerator, $100 for a washer and up to $50 for a room air conditioner on approved Energy Star products.
Modeled after the Cash for Clunkers new car program last year, Cash for Appliances is being touted with its Earth Day start as an environmental and economic boon for the state.
Amy Morgan, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission, said the state expects to issue about 400,000 rebates, with checks coming from the state controller.
She said the commission doesn't know how long the money will last, but retail analysts expect funds to be exhausted well before the May 23 cutoff.
The state has partnered with local and national retailers for the program to help consumers navigate the rebate process and dispose of their old appliances with a state-certified recycler.
Big chains such as Best Buy, Lowe's and The Home Depot and area shops including Direct Appliance in Modesto and Bordona's in Oakdale are on board as Platinum Partners, offering free pickup, delivery, recycling and help with rebate paperwork.
"I think people will take advantage of it and why not?" said Ron Winter, owner of Direct Appliance. "If you're in the market for something like that anyway and can make an extra $100, it's a great idea. So I am expecting heavier traffic."
Sears is also participating in the program statewide and will help customers with paperwork and recycling.
"In the last three weeks, we've seen intense interest in the rebate program," said Shaun Enget, Sears store manager at Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto. "People seem to have stopped shopping because they are waiting for the big day."
Among those shoppers waiting for the rebate to start was Modesto resident Dena Martin. The 58-year-old had a washing machine picked out at Sears on Wednesday afternoon and planned to be back at the store by 6 a.m. today to make her purchase.
"The stimulus is definitely helping," she said. "I'll be saving in three ways: the state rebates, on water bills and on electric bills."
Washer and a fridge
While Martin said she needed to buy a new washer anyway, she also plans to pop for a refrigerator because of the incentives.
Sears is offering 30 percent discounts on all Energy Star appliances on top of the state rebates and existing rebates from manufacturers, Pacific Gas & Electric and the Modesto Irrigation District.
Without the rebate, Martin said, she probably would have kept her 25-year-old fridge until it stopped running. But now, between the two appliances she expects to save more than $700.
While retailers said they expect interest to be high, they're unsure how long the rebates will last.
Other states such as Texas and Arizona burned through their allotted funds in a matter of days, even hours.
California officials said the mail-in format was chosen to give people more of a chance to participate. Rebates will be given based on the earliest postmark dates.
"We're all ready for it and have everything priced and tagged. But it's really up in the air. The thing is, we don't know how long before they run out of money," said Bob Bordona, owner of Bordona's in Oakdale. "We're telling customers that if they want to take advantage, that the earlier they get the paperwork in, the better chance they get the rebate."
Early birds get the ...
Bordona's will open at 7 a.m. today, two hours early, to help customers place orders as soon as possible.
Kathryn Gallagher, spokeswoman for The Home Depot's western division, said even if the funds run out quickly, it will still help generate millions of dollars in sales and make homes more energy- efficient.
"It's going to continue to put these (energy-efficient) appliances in the limelight," she said. "We're going to give you some money to go get one, and you can save money on your energy bill. It's a good picture all around."
The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2284.