December 18, 2014

Government Appliance Rebate Not Working Perfectly?

The appliance business in Washington state did not see the benefits some might have expected from the government’s appliance rebate program. The Tri-City Herald reports:

About 38,000 people around the state got checks from $75 to $750 for buying Energy Star-rated appliances and properly recycling the old ones said Rebecca Stillings with the state Department of Commerce.

But all the money had been applied for by Friday, November fifth she said.

The owner of one Tri-City business was glad to hear that.

“That’s good news for us,” said Steve O’Neill, owner of Master’s Appliance & Refrigeration in Pasco. “We saw a lot less used appliances coming through our shop.”

O’Neill’s store sells new and used appliances, and the rebate program meant fewer used appliances available for resale or to salvage for parts. (The rebate program requires the older be recycled.)

“It really only helped the people who could afford the newer, high-end ones,” O’Neill said. “If you had to buy used, it just drove up the price.”

O’Neill said he used to bring in a truckload of used appliances a day to refurbish or use as parts to rebuild other machines for resell in the store he’s owned for 10 years.

Now, it’s down to two or three truckloads a week.

Because the store sells new and used appliances, O’Neill saw both sides of the program.

“What we lost on the used stuff, we didn’t make up on the new ones we sold,” he said.

At Garrison’s Home Appliance Center in Kennewick, owner Henry Garrison said some customers obviously knew about the rebate program.

“I had some people and they only wanted the ones they can get some money back on,” he said.

The program wasn’t much of a hit at Bunch-Finnigan Appliances in Kennewick. Dan Bunch said most customers weren’t aware of the program, and weren’t interested when they heard about it.

“The requirements and regulations are too strict, and it’s complex,” Bunch said.

Bunch said he didn’t notice an increase in business during the rebate program.

EnergyStar Ratings – Can They be Trusted?

According to retailers, the Federal Appliance Rebate Program has increased appliance purchases nationwide.  The rebate is for energy efficient appliances which is great – only you might not be getting what that EnergyStar  label promises.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggests that some Energy Star products aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Responding to a request for investigation from Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), the GAO submitted 20 fictitious products between June 2009 and March 2010 for certification by Energy Star, a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Fifteen of the fakes–including a phony “room-air cleaner” that was little more than a space heater with a feather duster taped to it–received an Energy Star label.

Parade Magazine reports that in response, federal officials announced plans to strengthen the program. From now on, each application will be reviewed individually by an EPA staff member (as opposed to the automated approval process previously in place). By the end of the year, companies that want Energy Star certification for their products will be required to submit lab results from an independent testing agency rather than conduct their own evaluations.

Meanwhile, consumer advocates say we can still have faith in our Energy Star appliances: Most Energy Star brands on the market are about 10% more energy-efficient than their counterparts.

Sen. Collins applauds the reforms, calling them long overdue. “Energy Star wasn’t just slipping a bit,” she says. “It was in danger of falling off the quality cliff–putting taxpayers at risk of getting ripped off. Now that the EPA and DOE are moving to put more stringent oversight in place, I believe consumers will be better served and the integrity of the program will be restored.”

Appliance Rebates are Here – But Not for Long

The federal appliance rebates are finally here, but if you want yours, you’d better act fast.

According to the Wall Street Journal,  in Florida  the $17.6 million allocated for the program lasted a day and half, as more than 72,000 claims were filed. In Illinois, the second half of its $12.4 million, made available on Friday, April 16th disappeared in 11 hours.

Nationwide, $300 million in rebate money has been allocated by the federal government to 56 states and territories to encourage residents to buy furnaces, clothes washers, refrigerators and other appliances with the government’s Energy Star label. Typically, rebates run about $75 for a clothes washer and several hundred dollars for home heating and cooling systems.

But in an experience reminiscent of last year’s popular “cash for clunkers” program, which paid consumers to trade in gas-guzzling automobiles, interest in the appliance programs has been so been intense that the state programs are often running dry in a matter of days.

For example, Melissa Woodall, a single mother of three in Miami, said she began scanning appliance ads a few weeks ago for a new stove. She noticed an article about the rebates and decided to replace her old, leaky dishwasher and refrigerator.

The day before qualified purchases were allowed, she visited Sears to pick out the appliances. On Friday, she arrived to the store at 6:30 a.m. and found 49 customers in line. Fortunately, the store had given her a printout the night before. All she had to do was pay and arrange delivery, which still took an hour and a half in the crowded store.

And the ordeal was not over, Ms. Woodall said — she still had to get the rebate itself. At 11 a.m., when online signups began, she and her sister went to the state’s rebate site. “The Web site was flooded. It kept crashing,” she said. It took her an hour and 15 minutes to get registered for the rebate.

It was worth it, Ms. Woodall said. She paid about $1,500 for the dishwasher and fridge and will be getting about $500 back.

Each state has structured its own program, sometimes excluding certain appliances like air-conditioners or requiring proof that old appliances were recycled before paying out the cash. The amount of money available varies widely, from more than $35 million in California, where the program was scheduled to start on Thursday in connection with Earth Day, to $100,000 in American Samoa.

The federal government created the appliance rebate program as part of the 2009 stimulus legislation, and retailers say it has increased sales.

The high interest is understandable. The rebate programs come on top of existing discounts on Energy Star appliances, recycling and take-back rebates for old units, and specials provided by individual retailers. In some cases, consumers may qualify for federal or state tax credits, too.