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Let’s Move Inside – Pacific Research Institute

Let’s Move Inside

Customers could not use their thermostats during “emergency events,” according to the proposal, part of a 236-page revision to building standards. They would apply only to new buildings. The document is scheduled to be considered by the California Energy Commission on January 30.

During heat waves, customers crank up the air conditioning, (actually many just leave the a.c. set at the original level of comfort, but that still increases demand) putting severe strains on the state’s power supply. By giving utilities the power to adjust power demand by reducing air conditioning, the hope is that more severe interruptions, such as rolling blackouts, can be avoided.

The document, available here, outlines the mandatory use of Programmable Communicating Thermostats:

“Upon receiving an emergency signal, the PCT shall respond to commands contained in the emergency signal, including changing the set-point by any number of degrees or to a specific temperature set-point. The PCT shall not allow customer changes to thermostat settings during emergency events.”

The mandatory nature of the proposal was described in a Jan. 4 article in the American Thinker, an online political magazine with a conservative bent. The article, which denounced the plan as overly intrusive —- and economically counterproductive —- is at tinyurl.com.

However, the Utility Consumers Action Network, a consumer rights group, said customers should be allowed to override the thermostat. Michael Shames, UCAN’s executive director, called the directive “a stunner” in an e-mail. “These ‘advanced’ energy technologies have the potential to be used for both good and evil. It looks like the California Energy Commission wants it both ways … good and evil.” Allowing consumers to react to price signals is good; cutting off the choice is evil.

Shames wrote that allowing external control of thermostats can help customers better manage their energy use, which he supports. “However, it is repugnant and entirely unacceptable to mandate that the customer loses control over the device that will be mandatorily placed in their homes,” Shames wrote.

The thermostat control would be “exercised only in cases of need,” and is the latest ‘refinement’ of a 30-year-old building energy conservation program, said Adam Gottlieb, a spokesman for the California Energy Commission. Thanks to efficiency standards, California’s demand for electricity has remained flat since the late 1970s even as its population has doubled, Gottlieb said. In reality, in the history of California energy standards, consumption has actually increased by about 60%, while only the per-capita consumption has remained flat, and not entirely due to the standards. For a more complete explanation of why per-capita consumption has remained flat see PRI’s Light’s On.

The threat of turning off peoples’ air conditioning is another in the “just say no” approach to energy policy in California–no to new sources, no to reasonable prices, no to comsumer choice and no to reliable service. Instead of giving utilities the power to control demand, why not give them the power to increase supply and delivery?

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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