By Red Green and Blue - Red Green and Blue
By Joe Walsh
Before heading home to face the anger at the now infamous health care "town halls," Congress rushed through an extension to what was then considered a popular program: Cash for Clunkers. Then, like much of the August break, Cash for Clunkers went sideways as critics picked apart the program's weaknesses, consumers stopped showing up with so many clunkers, and dealers started making noise about something as simple as when they might actually get the rebate money that the government promised.
So, what do you do when you have a poorly-conceived and ill-managed project winding down (Clunkers expires at 8 p.m. eastern on August 24)? Kick off another one, even more poorly thought out, and gloss it with an equally catchy name: Cash for Refrigerators. Beginning in the fall, consumers will have access - through existing state-level energy efficiency incentive programs - $300 million in stimulus funds made available as rebates for energy efficient appliances.
So far, so good. If a consumer is out buying an appliance to replace an existing or broken-down one, it is better that they choose an energy efficient model. But, what about special incentive program purchases? Who is the buyer and why are they buying?
The answer is that the most well-educated and most discerning consumers become aware of and make use of special rebate programs for energy efficient appliances. These are not impulse buyers. Some may actually be committed to greening their kitchen and just waiting for the right incentive push, but I doubt it. In other words, my perception is that most of the $300 million will go to middle-class households that already may have a relatively efficient refrigerator, like Clunkers, it won't get at the really dreadful stuff in use in the lowest income households.
Worse still, this program does not borrow one component from Clunkers that would actually have been effective: there is no requirement to take the old appliance offline. Odds are that many of the middle class households claiming the rebate will use the new appliance in the kitchen, and move the old one to the basement, the garage, or the back porch, where it will be pressed into service storing extra beer and the overflow from Costco. The old fridge remains on the grid and we add in the new appliance too. Does that sound like a good environmental deal?
Granted, it would be very difficult to have consumers truck their old fridge in to dispose of it and claim eligibility for the program, but why not make disposal of the appliance part of the program and use some of the $300 million to fund existing programs in cities around the U.S. which haul away old appliances and make sure that they are disposed of properly - or, at all.
Without some guarantee that the old appliance is coming offline, there is no telling what the efficiency gains of this kind of spending might actually be. With appliances that are unlikely to find duplicate use in the house (i.e., a dishwasher), the program may return some value in kwH reduction; but, without a guarantee in place, we might just have given the cash directly to the appliance manufacturers and saved a lot of administrative difficulty.
Reprinted with permission from Red Green and Blue
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