After an initial flurry of interest, California's Cash for Appliances program is languishing, with $26 million in rebates waiting for customers.
California Energy Commission spokeswoman Michele Demetras said the problem may be that people think there's no money left. Other states ran similar programs, and reports that they ran through their money might have discouraged potential buyers here.
Another hurdle is the state requirement that customers prove they've recycled their old appliances.
"It's kind of a huge component of our program, the recycling part of it," Demetras said. "You don't just get free money. You have to work for it."
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Ron Winter is willing to do the work for you.
Winter owns Direct Appliance in Modesto, which is one of the program's "platinum" partners. Others are Bordona Appliances in Oakdale as well as big-box stores, including Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe's.
"We do it all," Winter said. "We've got all the paperwork. I just took a pretty good-sized load to the recycler's."
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.
The Energy Commission is trying to make it easier with a Web site showing what appliances qualify and where they can be purchased. The site is updated regularly with the amount paid out in claims.
Other states, such as Texas and Louisiana, have found they still have money, too, Demetras said. Unlike California, some states used a "reserve" system in which customers could put in a reservation and then follow up with a claim.
"A lot of those are incomplete," she said. "Just because you've reserved it doesn't mean you'll get it."
Winter said another obstacle locally is that some customers think new appliances that meet the requirements are so expensive that the rebate won't make a big enough difference.
But he pointed out that with some manufacturers offering their own rebates, and stores such as his having sales, people can get a really good deal on an appliance that will save energy — and money — over time.
For instance, he is selling a washer for $599 and dryer for $549.
"With all the rebates, you can get a front-load, energy-efficient washer and dryer set for what you'd pay for the front-load washer," he said.
Winter said he had several customers ask about the rebate program when it kicked off April 22. But not now.
"It died off big time," he said. "I just sold a lady a refrigerator today, and I told her about it. She said, 'Oh, I thought that was over.' "
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2343.