If the frenzy in other states is any indication, California's Cash for Appliances rebate program kicking off Thursday could turn into a dash for appliances.
Retailers and state officials aren't sure how long the $35.2 million allotted to California for energy-efficient appliances will last because shoppers have responded with such zeal to rebates in other states.
The $6.5 million available in Illinois ran out in 11 hours and Arizona's rebates, which consumers reserved by phone or computer, were snapped up within a few hours.
Some Valley retailers are opening early to avoid being left out of the sales -- Ventura TV Electronics & Appliances is opening its Blackstone Avenue store just after midnight and Sears is opening at 6 a.m.
Styled after the Cash for Clunkers program, the rebates are designed to get inefficient appliances to recyclers while stimulating the economy with purchases of new, energy-saving ones. It is timed to coincide with Earth Day.
California's $35 million allotment is part of $300 million in federal stimulus funds for rebates nationwide.
Shoppers can get up to a $200 rebate on refrigerators, $100 on clothes washers and $50 on window or room air conditioners on appliances designated for rebates by the California Energy Commission.
The commission, which is handling the rebates, expects shoppers to buy 300,000 appliances under the program. Officials there won't speculate how long the funds will last, but some retailers think it won't be very long.
"If the experience of other states is any indication, this is going to be a sell-out event," said Mark Shirin, president of Ventura TV.
The commission will post an online tracker at www.cash4appliances.org to show how much money is left. But, Shirin said, the lag time caused by the requirement to mail in applications for rebates could give shoppers relying on the tracker a false sense of security.
Consumers must prove their new appliance is bought and delivered and that the old one is recycled before they can mail in the applications. They must mail in several documents, including the bar code from the box and a utility bill to prove residency.
Certain retailers, who have been designated "Platinum Partners," will drop off new appliances and pick up old ones. They have pledged to recycle older appliances, and consumers can apply for rebates as soon as their new appliances are delivered by that store.
In the central San Joaquin Valley, those retailers are Central Distributing and Ventura TV in Fresno, Frank's Appliance in Visalia, and Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe's stores throughout the area.
Other stores are having their own promotions, including Sears, which plans to open at 6 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Ventura TV will close its Ventura Avenue store to focus on its location at Blackstone and Barstow avenues, where it has stocked up on appliances and added 10 temporary workers for the day.
But shoppers may face challenges even if they're the first in line.
Not every Energy Star- labeled appliance is eligible for the rebate. Only the most energy-efficient are on the list, which can be found at the commission's Web site.
"The refrigerators are pretty limited," said Brian Peregrina, appliance purchasing manager at Central Distributing. "They are such a high energy-efficiency tier that not many manufacturers make them."
Because the new appliances are so efficient, shoppers may be surprised at the price tags -- up to $1,500 on some refrigerators, said Greg Torres, co-owner of Frank's Appliance.
And because other states held their rebate programs first, some retailers are dealing with shortages of appliances and back orders, Ventura TV's Shirin said.
Still, retailers are hoping for big sales from people who miss out on the state rebates or buy appliances not on the list. Retailers are offering discounts and manufacturers are piling on rebates for many other appliances.
Some cities and utilities also are offering their own rebates.
The city of Clovis, for example, offers a $50 or $75 rebate for Energy Star-rated washing machines and $75 for low-flow toilets.
The city of Fresno also offers a $75 rebate on high-efficiency clothes washers and $50 or $75 for certain toilets.
Pacific Gas & Electric offers rebates of up to $50 for clothes washers, dishwashers, room air-conditioners and water heaters.
Information about each rebate is available on the cities' and the utility's Web sites.