Utility companies may control your thermostat

January 12, 2008 7:53:35 PM PST
Imagine if the thermostat in your home was being raised and lowered remotely by your utility company. That is the latest proposal from the California Energy Commission.

While it could save precious energy during a power shortage opponents say it smacks of "big brother." On a hot summer day, your thermostat could be cranked up several degrees by your utility company.

"The plan right now is for the state to slowly convert everyone's meters from the old style dials we're used to to a 21st century device that basically has the guts of a cell phone," says Dan Kammen, U.C. Berkeley Professor Of Energy & Resources.

In an emergency, utilities could then remotely control home thermostats to avoid blackouts.

"They have to do something to reduce demand and what we do usually these days is rolling blackouts, which is the worst possible option because suddenly all of your power goes out. All this would do is reduce everybody's power a little bit," says Severin Borenstein, Director of U.C. Energy Institute

The California Energy Commission's new proposal would mandate new building standards and would keep the state from buying expensive extra power during times of peak demand.

"We think what consumers really need are energy saving programs that both save energy and money and this big brother thermostat program has no evidence it does either," says Mark Toney, The Utility Reform Network.

PG&E has already launched a similar voluntary program in Stockton and Tracey called "Smart AC". On peak demand days, they can raise a customer's thermostat by 4 degrees for as long as 6 hours.

But in contrast, the statewide proposal would be mandatory -- consumers couldn't override the utility during emergencies.

"Over time, the expectation is a system like this, once we work out all the bugs, would become a state requirement," says Kammen.

Consumers seem sharply divided over the new proposal. Some consumers say it sounds like a good idea to avoid rolling blackouts. Others don't think the government really needs to come into our homes and check on our thermostats.

The new standards are scheduled to be addressed by the California Energy Commission on January 30th. Final adoption could come as early as next year.