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Next stimulus: Cash for clunker refrigerators
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Published: 8/27/2009 12:06 AM

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If you missed your chance to get cash for your clunker, you may soon have another shot at getting government money for going green. Just step out of the garage and into the kitchen.

This year's stimulus bill funded a $300 million program that will offer rebates of varying amounts - possibly up to $200 - to buyers of energy-efficient appliances and other products that carry the "Energy Star" label.

The rebate programs are being run by the states, and the details are still being worked out. But unlike Cash for Clunkers, you probably won't have to drag your old stove into the store to get money for a new one.

Here are some questions and answers about the rebates.

Q. What is this program, and why haven't I heard much about it yet?

A. There hasn't been much talk of the program yet because it's still taking shape.

Here's what we know: The government has set aside about $300 million for states to use to give out rebates to buyers of energy-efficient appliances like freezers, refrigerators, furnaces and central air conditioners.

Q. When will this start?

A. States had to send letters saying they wanted to participate to the Department of Energy by Aug. 15. In the next week, they'll start to receive 10 percent of their funding allotments, which department spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said will be used to help develop the programs.

Plans for the programs - including which products qualify and how much the rebates will be worth - are due back to the federal government by Oct. 15. The Department of Energy estimates that the full $300 million will be awarded by the end of November, and consumers should start to see the rebate programs in stores later this year or early next year.

"It will really just depend on how complex the state's program is and the infrastructure they have to put in place," Stutsman said.

Q. How much money is being awarded to each state?

A. The allocation to states and territories is based on population, working out to roughly $1 a person per state. So California's allotment is the biggest, with nearly $35.3 million.

There's a minimum allotment of $100,000, which is what American Samoa and Northern Marianas will get.

Q. What will the average rebate look like?

A. The Department of Energy won't give a number, since it says it won't know what the states' plans are until mid-October. But the appliance industry's trade group, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, said consumers should expect to see rebates of between $50 and $200, since that's what states with existing rebate programs typically give.

Q. Is this a new idea?

A. Yes and no. An energy rebate program was first included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, but it was never funded until this year's stimulus bill. From the Department of Energy's perspective, this is a new federal program. But the trade group estimates that 25 states already have their own rebate programs, which either states or utilities pay for.

Q. What's the thinking behind the program?

A. Similar to the clunkers program - which gave car buyers up to $4,500 if they turned in a gas guzzler for something more efficient - the goals are to stimulate the economy and improve the environment.

The rebates might spur new appliance sales, which would help an industry that's really been struggling - sales of big-ticket items like major appliances have slumped in the recession. So far this year, shipments of new appliances to retailers are down 15 percent, according to the trade group. That's on top of a 10 percent drop last year.

As for the environment, replacing old appliances with new, efficient ones means less energy is required to operate them. The Department of Energy recommends that states focus their programs on rebates for heating and cooling equipment, appliances and water heaters, saying they offer the greatest energy savings potential.

Q. How do I know which products qualify for the program?

A. Pay attention to your state's details when they are announced for the types of products that will qualify. But generally, just look for the blue "Energy Star" sticker.

The Department of Energy estimates that Energy Star products use between 10 percent and 30 percent less energy than standard models.

You won't have to look too hard.

The appliance manufacturers' trade group said 55 percent of the products its members make carry the label.