Appliance rebate program will rev up in 2010

Whatever happened to the “cash for clunkers”-like program for new energy-efficient appliances?

Readers have called or e-mailed regularly about the planned $300 million federal rebate program that was included in the Obama economic stimulus package. Several callers with heating systems that are kaput have had particular urgency in their voices and don’t want to miss out on any rebate.

Unlike the $3 billion clunkers rebate blitzkrieg that boosted new-vehicle sales last summer, this program has proceeded more slowly and is aimed at longer-term household investments. It’s also being run differently, with each state deciding what kind of equipment will qualify for rebates.

The federal Department of Energy said last summer that only residential appliances that carry the Energy Star designation would qualify for a rebate. It suggested that rebates could be applied to water heaters, refrigerators, central air conditioners and other big-ticket appliances.

After talking with several people familiar with the program, it now appears details will be released by the end of the year on exactly the types of equipment each state will include in its rebate program as well as the amount of the rebates.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said its PA Energy Equipment Rebate Program would cover only non-electrical heating, air conditioning and water heating equipment. In other words, new energy-efficient equipment must use natural gas, propane or oil.

Pennsylvania hopes to make the $10.9 million in federal funds it receives available for rebates by March. The Rendell administration estimated that it could fund 32,000 heating, ventilation and air conditioning installations. That would amount to an average rebate of about $340.

New Jersey, which is getting $8.33 million in federal funding, released some details on its plans in late October. For example, the rebate for specified Energy Star dishwashers would range from $25 to $75 and for refrigerators from $75 to $100. The state Board of Public Utilities said the rebates are tentatively scheduled to be offered beginning in January.

If your heater’s dead, obviously you can’t wait until January to replace it. But even if replacing it now might not qualify for a rebate, you may be eligible for a federal tax credit for energy-efficient equipment. You can read more about such tax credits on the federal Energy Star Web site here.