Time is running out to get your piece of the federal stimulus under Cash for Appliances.
The rebate program will come to a close Nov. 12, Maryland officials announced Thursday. Already, thousands of consumers have used the money to defray the cost of energy-efficient clothes washers, refrigerators and air conditioners. And nearly 90 percent of the $5.4 million in stimulus funds allocated to Maryland has been doled out.
While economists have debated the utility of such a stimulus — with some saying it juices consumer spending, a major driver of the economy, and others saying it merely gives people a break on purchases they planned to make anyway — the idea has proved popular among shoppers. Nationwide, $300 million was allocated to the appliance incentives, and some state programs rapidly ran out of funds.
Glen Burnie resident Tim White said he and his wife bought a central air-conditioning unit three weeks ago for their two-bedroom condo thanks to the rebates. If it weren't for the incentive, he said, they probably would have tried to refurbish their existing, 20-year-old unit in the spring.
"I was prepared that it was going to go down sometime," White said.
The incentive program kicked off in Maryland on Earth Day — April 22 — with rebates for electric heat pump water heaters and certain high-efficiency clothes washers and refrigerators. Officials expanded the program in July to include rebates on air-source heat pumps, freezers and room air conditioners.
Marylanders have applied for rebates for more than 14,000 clothes washers, 3,500 refrigerators and nearly 3,000 central air conditioners and air-source heat pumps, according to the Maryland Energy Administration or MEA.
"That's a lot of Marylanders getting money back in their pocket," said Lauren Swiston, an MEA program manager. "Those purchases certainly have provided a stimulus to the local retailers."
MEA will honor rebate forms received or postmarked by Nov. 12, as long as they are complete and apply to qualifying products, spokesman Ian P. Hines said. If the amount of rebate money exceeds the remaining amount of stimulus funds available, the MEA will still issue rebates using federal money from other stimulus programs, he said.
And if Maryland consumers do not make a purchase in time for these federal rebates, they can still take advantage of rebates offered by their utilities as part of the Empower Maryland program, Swiston said. Those incentives are funded by surcharges on utility bills.
The extent of the economic boost created by the Cash for Appliances program remains to be seen. Anirban Basu, a regional economist with the Sage Policy Group, said the $5.4 million in stimulus money adds up to about a dollar per Maryland resident.
"One suspects the impact was relatively small," he said.
But for some consumers, the program certainly stimulated their shopping. Catonsville resident Brian Robey bought a new washer and dryer with his wife for their new home this spring and said they probably wouldn't have paid the $250 premium for their energy-efficient models without the rebates. They received $100 from the stimulus rebate and $50 from Baltimore Gas and Electric.
With a 2-year-old son, they do at least five or six loads of laundry a week, Robey said. The rebates "definitely had a pretty big weight, in terms of changing over," he said. And their electric bills are about equal to what they were at their old home even though their new home is bigger, he said.
The Cash for Appliances program has been a good for retailers, too, said George Creighton, manager of the Best Buy in Glen Burnie. "It has been a great traffic driver and a benefit not only to retailers but to consumers," he said.
And the rebate program created an opportunity to educate consumers who were skeptical about the energy-efficient appliances, he said. "The cost savings over time with energy-efficient models is the selling point," he said. "The incentive made the difference sometimes for the customer."
How to apply
Buy a qualifying appliance from the categories below. Check the Maryland Energy Administration's appliance rebate website (http://energy.maryland.gov/Residential/applianceRebate.html) for a table of eligibility criteria:
•Energy Star central air conditioner: $500 rebate
•Energy Star air source heat pump: $500 rebate
•Energy Star freezer: $100 rebate
•Energy Star room air conditioner: $25 rebate
•Select Energy Star refrigerators: $50 rebate
•Select Energy Star clothes washers: $100 rebate
•Energy Star electric heat pump water heater: $300 rebate
If you're a customer of Allegheny Power, BGE, Delmarva, Pepco or SMECO, go to their websites to download a rebate application. Everyone else, MEA has your forms.
Mail it in on or before Friday, Nov. 12.