edmonton washing machine rebate debate

The City of Edmonton is currently offering a $75 rebate for residents who purchase a Energy Star rated high efficiency washing machine. This is an attempt to encourage people to “preserve the environment.” The city’s environmental plan, “The Way We Green,” is the driving force behind this program, offering information on how adjustments in our lives can positively impact the environment.

Kudo’s to Edmonton for taking a great step. But is this really going to save people money? Is it really going to “preserve the environment?”

Our family bought a washer last year for $370. It would have been great to pick up one of those “high efficiency” models, but, as is the way of things for the average family, we were just too strapped to afford the $800 equivalent. Plus, after shopping around for the best deal, we were getting “agitated” to make the purchase, as the laundry was piling up at home. At our final stop, the smiley sales person whose cologne was too strong, ring too big, shirt too starched and teeth too white seemed to be loading us with a sales pitch too unbelievable. We finally left him standing in his aroma and walked over to the scratch and dent section, did an eenie meenie minie mo quickpick, and took our baby home.

So I was skeptical when I saw the announcements for the $75 rebate. Would that quick cash help an average Edmonton family if they had to make a purchase like mine? I don’t think so. The typical argument is that you also will be saving costs over the course of the next few years, so the upfront extra cash will be worth it in the end. I still don’t think so.

The City’s information indicates that a high-efficiency washing machine can save an average family approximately $150/year in utility costs. A recent Epcor publication indicated typical average annual savings of approximately $83.25. do the math. This would mean, according to the city’s numbers, that my machine last year would have been paid off in 33 months. According to Epcor’s numbers, 61. Regardless of the accuracy of either of them, sometime in between, the crazy machine would no doubt crap out anyways, and a new one would have to be purchased.

Further, these rebates are only available for 1,500 households, first come first served. I’ll tell you right now … the majority of people able to rush to purchase a high efficiency washer, most likely own perfectly working machines already. I had an interesting conversation with an online rep from an appliance retailer about it this morning. When I asked her about the cost savings in purchasing a high-efficiency machine, and the city’s rebate offer, she surmised that for most families, they wouldn’t be able to afford a new machine, so $75 and residual energy savings really wouldn’t do them much good.

Having said that, the Climate Change Central Program, the organization administering the rebate, offers a coupling of municipal and provincial rebates to this particular initiative. If you live in Edmonton, your rebate could total $175 … that’s getting better. Regardless of all this, there are still other concerns I have.

Like hey … it’s good for the environment, no? Think again … have you been down to the dump lately? You could build a lego-like, life-sized model of the Edmonton high rise skyline with the appliances that have been dumped along the corridor of the Edmonton waste management properties. Don’t fool yourself. After this rebate plays itself out, there will no doubt be a silent increase of working washers magically appearing in our landfill. Nice.

Plus, the thing that really irks me: Why are high-efficiency washers so much more expensive anyway? I understand the R&D costing factor of “creating the better mousetrap,” but once these things are designed, and production has been established for years, are they REALLY that much more difficult and costly to build? I think people are paying more for the “green” than the machine.

Here’s my suggestion: The city may do better at offering 200 new machines to low income large families. This would mean that the people who need the machines would use them. Plus, they’d use the machine far more than a middle-aged couple with no kids who could afford the new machine, and the resulting decrease in energy consumption would be markedly better. Finally, families who need cash wouldn’t be as inclined to dump their old machine, but would resell them, so the resulting environmental impact on our landfill would be minimal.

As for me, I’m paying for food, clothing, school fees and gas this month. I’m not going to be throwing my baby out with the washer water any time soon.

Having said that, for anyone hoping to take advantage of the program, regardless of my cynicism, I surprisingly still encourage it. Find out more here.

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