Shoppers were visiting Stanislaus County appliance stores this weekend in the pursuit of savings -- government-sponsored rebates on new energy-efficient refrigerators, washers or air conditioners in exchange for their old, energy-hogging appliances.
Mom and son Betty and Bob McBrian were checking out refrigerators Sunday at The Home Depot on Carpenter Road in Modesto. With a refrigerator at least two dec- ades old, the Ripon residents said they wanted to take advantage of the rebate.
"We've needed a new refrigerator for a long time. The old one's starting to wear out, so it's time to get serious about it and start thinking about an upgrade," Bob McBrian said. "We'll buy one today if the prices are right."
The Home Depot was offering 10 percent off energy-efficient appliances that cost more than $398. The retailer also is offering free delivery and haul away for most appliance purchases.
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The McBrians are eligible for a rebate of as much as $200 off their purchase as part of the $35.2 million State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program. The program is financed by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in 2009, which gives states $300 million for rebates on energy-efficient home appliances.
California's program will give rebates to buyers of qualified appliances who trade in their washers, air conditioners and refrigerators.
Thursday -- Earth Day -- was the program's first day, and it will remain in effect until May 23 or when the money runs out. Rebates are $200 for refrigerators, $100 for washers and as much as $50 for air conditioners. All appliances must meet certain energy-conserving standards.
Bob McBrian said the rebate program was a good idea to get people buying again.
Sales staff at The Home Depot said they've seen an uptick in customers checking out appliances since Thursday.
The same was true in the Bay Area.
"I got a beautiful GE refrigerator with an ice and water dispenser in the door," said Bea Linn of Hayward, who showed up at Sears in Pleasanton's Stoneridge mall at 6 a.m., its special opening time to accommodate the program. By 7 a.m., the store had sold nearly 20 rebate-worthy appliances, and stores in other Bay Area cities reported similarly brisk business last Thursday.
Linn is eligible for a $200 rebate on the $900 refrigerator.
She was concerned about whether she would qualify for her rebate in time. In some states, money for the federal-state program ran out quickly. Massachusetts, for example, launched its program of online reservations Thursday morning. About two hours later, its maximum number of reservations was reached.
In California, buyers must go to the store, buy the appliance, have it delivered, recycle the old appliance and mail in the receipt, a utility bill, a proof-of-recycling form, the yellow Energy Guide tag from the appliance and the rebate application form. Then they must wait to see if their packet arrives before the money runs out.
"It should be easier to get your money," said John Bowersmith of Castro Valley, who was shopping for a refrigerator for his father at a Hayward appliance store.
"There's a larger opportunity for fraud with a reservation period," Amy Morgan of the California Energy Commission -- which is administering the program -- told Bay Area News Group in March. "This way we can verify every customer's request as the packages come in."
The commission will post the amount of money that's left on its Web site -- www.cash4appliances.org -- but it could take until Thursday to get the information online.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.