Dollars for dishwashers? Don't get your hopes lathered up

The good news: The Feds are giving away $300 million in rebates to replace old appliances with energy-efficient ones.

The bad news: You don't get to decide how much you get, or which appliances qualify. Your state government does.
The Department of Energy has just finished gathering proposals for a program that some wags call "dollars for dishwashers." Like the soon-to-expire Cash for Clunkers program to replace old cars, the plan is to entice shoppers to replace old power-hungry appliances with new Energy Star–rated models.

Each state and territory will get a kitty based on population and other factors, ranging from $35.2 million for California to $100,000 for American Samoa. Plans were due at the end of last week, and now all states and territories are reported to be on board. The Energy Department expects to have all the funding sent to the states by the end of November, just in time for the retailers' make-or-break fourth quarter.

The Energy Department said it will cover central- and room air conditioners, heat pumps, boilers, furnaces, clothes-washers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators, and water heaters. But states can choose which of those appliances to cover and the amount of the rebates.

But while Cash for Clunkers looks like a success for the automakers and dealers, Dollars for Dishwashers looks a bit more iffy for home and garden stores. Cash for Clunkers scored because it was big -- worth $3 billion -- and, as a production of the federal government, it was easy to promote nationally. It's a lot harder for Lowe's or Home Depot to promote rebates on appliances, a weak category for both stores, if they have to market the plan state-by-state.

And not all appliances are created equal, which is where things get tricky. A $100 rebate on a refrigerator is a nice incentive; a $100 rebate on a furnace won't even buy the oil to run it. So if the amounts of rebates are too small, it may not even be worth a big marketing push.
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