The state of California has halted, at least for now, a plan that would have allowed utilities to control the thermostats inside residents’ homes remotely, instead making plans to work on a “voluntary” program.
The plan as outlined just days ago would have targeted rolling blackouts and freed up electric and natural gas resources by requiring every new heating or cooling system to include a “non-removable” FM receiver, under the threat of withholding building permits for nonparticipation.
Such thermostats would have been wired to control heating and cooling systems as well as other appliances in the house, such as electric water waters, refrigerators, pool pumps, computers and lights, in response to signals from utility companies.
However, in a new statement on the website of the California Energy Commission, officials are admitting that residents actually should be the ones to make decisions regarding their energy usage.
“Technology can be a powerful tool in managing our energy use. However, it is of utmost importance that consumers make their own energy decisions,” the statement said.
Officials confirmed it was the “considerable discussion” about the programmable communicating thermostats and the state proposal that required their installation in any new construction that triggered the change.
“On Jan. 15, 2008, the Energy Commission’s Efficiency Committee … directed that PCTs be removed from the proposed 2008 energy efficiency building standards,” the state announced.
“The Committee also asked that the value and concerns related to the potential application of PCTs be considered with other demand response technologies in the Energy Commission’s Load Management proceeding that began recently,” the announcement continued. “It is important that consumers have the ability to opt out of or into demand response programs, such as those involving the PCT.”
The website continued to describe the devices as a “valuable tool to dampen peak electricity use” and such strategies are an alternative to “costly new power plants.”
“While more needs to be done to keep up with the needs of our ever-increasing population, it’s not the job of the (state) to go into peoples’ homes and control their thermostats,” Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys and the head of the state Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The proposal was set to be considered by the commission Jan. 30, and would have required each thermostat to be equipped with a radio communication device to send “price signals” and automatically adjust temperature up or down four degrees for cooling and heating, as California’s public and private utility organizations deem necessary.
Claudia Chandler, assistant executive director for the California Energy Commission, had told WND how beneficial to residents the system would be.
“From the Energy Commission’s perspective, all we’re doing is ensuring that this new technology is included in new homes instead of the older programmable technology,” she said.
She said the plan was for utilities to step in and change home and business thermostat settings when “utilities need to implement rolling blackouts and drop load in order to be able to meet their supplies because the integrity of the grid is being jeopardized.”
She explained residents would be able to manually override controls in all cases, but the 2008 Building Efficiency Standards (Page 64), known as Title 24, specifically stated: “The PCT shall not allow customer changes to thermostat settings during emergency events.”
Michael Shames, executive director of California’s Utility Consumers’ Action Network, said denying consumers control over their own appliances is a highly problematic concept.
“The implications of this language are far-reaching and Orwellian,” he said. “For the government and utility company to say, ‘We’re going to control the devices in your house, and you have no choice in that matter,’ that’s where the line is drawn. That sentence must be removed.”
But Jim Gunshinan, managing editor of Home Energy, based in Berkeley, Calif., advocated for the plan, citing consumer benefits, such as controlling a thermostat via the Internet.
“That means someone can turn on the air conditioning before they leave work for home and have the house comfortable when they walk in the door. Or if they forgot before leaving home for a ski trip, they can remotely lower the thermostat at home and save money.”
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