Appliance rebates almost gone

Since Montana began its Energy Star Appliance Rebate Program less than two months ago, more than 6,500 energy efficient appliances have been purchased, and the old units they've replaced sent off to be recycled.

The state has given out roughly 70 percent of the $928,000 it was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—enough to make officials at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) worry that late-comers to the program could be left empty handed when funds run out, probably in the next two or three weeks.

"At a certain point there might be some people who actually go and buy appliances and before they submit their application the whole program closes," says Kathleen O'Hern, DEQ's recycling and market development specialist. "But we're going to do everything we can to avoid that."

The DEQ is sending $100 rebate checks to buyers of energy efficient refrigerators and washing machines, $70 rebates for freezers, and $50 for dishwashers. Of the funds committed so far, refrigerators account for about 36 percent, washing machines for about 34 percent, dishwashers for 25 percent, and freezers for 5 percent.

While the DEQ and most retailers consider the program a success, Wayne Knapp, the manager of Vann's off Brooks Street in Missoula, says he thought the money would be long gone by now.

"There were projections on how long people thought the money would last," he says, "and it's probably lasted longer than people expected."

The Energy Star Appliance Rebate Program requires that appliances being replaced are recycled. It's led to an uptick in business at Missoula's Pacific Steel & Recycling, according to Manager Mason Mikkola. What happens to an appliance after it's dropped off?

Mikkola explains that appliances are crushed and cubed into 2,000-pound bales, and then trucked to a shredding facility near Boise where massive magnets and other tools are used to pull out steel, copper and aluminum that's ultimately sold to mills. Between 20 and 25 percent of a given appliance—mostly plastic and rubber—ends up in a landfill, Mikkola says.

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