Proposed mandate could give utility companies unlimited remote access to control residential HVAC thermostats
The government is seeking to limit rolling blackouts and free up electric and natural gas resources by mandating that every new heating and cooling system include a "non-removable" FM receiver. The thermostat is also capable of controlling other appliances in the house, such as electric water heaters, refrigerators, pool pumps, computers and lights in response to signals from utility companies. If contractors and residents refuse to comply with the mandate, their building permits will be denied.
The proposal, set to be considered by the commission Jan. 30, requires each thermostat to be equipped with a radio communication device to send "price signals" and automatically adjust temperature up or down 4 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, told WND the new systems would be highly beneficial to residents.
"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.
The Programmable Communication Thermostat, or PCT, will allow power authorities to control home temperatures while denying consumers ability to override settings during "emergency events." Nowhere in the proposal does it clarify what type of situation would qualify as an "emergency," but Chandler offered her own explanation: "An emergency is when the 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 claims residents will be able to manually override controls in all cases, but the 2008 Building Efficiency Standards (Page 64), known as Title 24, specifically states: "The PCT shall not allow customer changes to thermostat settings during emergency events."
Michael Shames, executive director of California's Utility Consumers' Action Network, told WND he believes the idea of a chip consumers are unable to override is not feasible. While he considers the technology to be a positive development, he 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."
Additionally, no provisional exceptions for people with health conditions worsened by excessive temperatures are mentioned in the current proposal; however, the Energy Commission spokeswoman said existing supply problems are more worrisome to Californians with health issues than the projected solution.
"I actually was more concerned in the 2001 electricity crisis that folks on critical medical devices like respirators, kidney dialysis machines and things like that were going through rolling blackouts," Chandler said. "That's a very challenging thing to face. Moving somebody's temperature up by a few degrees really seems mild by comparison."
Jim Gunshinan, managing editor of Home Energy, based in Berkley, Calif., told WND the changes would also provide consumers with an option to control thermostats 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."
Gunshinan claims the new system is needed because it will be more beneficial to the environment than building new energy facilities for the state.
"Since utilities have old, inefficient and dirty power plants on reserve to use during peak demand hours, dropping demand will mean less use of these dirty power plants and less pollution."
Some critics say California authorities will be incapable of enforcing compliance if homeowners and renters bootleg heating and cooling systems from other states, block radio reception with inexpensive FM transmitters or simply install window air conditioning units and space heaters, a bypass method that could use more energy than traditional units.
Concerned California residents expressed outrage with the proposal in several online postings:
"I hate this state. Why don't we just fly a communist flag while we are at it? We are planning a move out of state. I'm done."
"This is insane. Please, everyone reading this, take action. Write your representatives, call the RINO governor, call your local radio programs and, lastly, write letters to the editors of your local papers. Dear God, just when I thought California couldn't get much worse!"
Other opponents of the state proposal expressed concern that its mandatory nature is a sign of increasing "Big Brother" government control.
The California Energy Commission invites public comment until the proposed adoption date, Jan. 30. Written responses must indicate "Docket No. 07-BTSD-1." Members of the California Energy Commission are appointed by the governor. Concerned individuals can also contact California state legislators.
Kansas City, MO – Honeywell and Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), a subsidiary of Great Plains Energy, recently announced a contract extension to the utility’s Energy Optimizer program. Managed by Honeywell, Energy Optimizer is designed to reduce peak energy consumption from June to September, when air-conditioning use reaches its highest levels of the year.
The demand-response program, which was launched in 2005, features the installation of programmable thermostats in residential homes and small businesses. The thermostats include a paging system that allows KCP&L to communicate with the thermostats and cycle air conditioners off and on for brief intervals. This only happens on the hottest days of the year, when energy consumption peaks.
Energy Optimizer is part of KCP&L’s strategy for meeting Kansas City’s future energy needs. To date, 18,000 thermostats have been installed, exceeding the three-year program goal in less than two years. By extending the program, the utility plans to install an additional 13,000 thermostats.
“We are very pleased with the success of this program,” said Kevin Bryant, vice president of Energy Solutions for Kansas City Power & Light. “The Energy Optimizer program helps us defer the need to build additional peaking-power plants while helping customers save on heating and cooling costs year-round.”
KCP&L customers who enroll in the program receive a free, professionally installed programmable thermostat, which can reduce the home heating and cooling costs by as much as 20 percent. The thermostat also includes online programming capabilities, allowing users to easily adjust their settings from work or other remote locations.
Honeywell provides all program management, marketing, installation and customer service functions for Energy Optimizer.
“Almost every house has an air conditioner, and a variety of appliances and electronics, and the burden on the electrical grid continues to grow as a result,” said Kent Anson, vice president of Global Energy for Honeywell Building Solutions. “Programs like Energy Optimizer are essential to help utilities keep electricity affordable and protect the environment for future generations.”
Honeywell Utility Solutions, a division of Honeywell Building Solutions, has 30 years experience designing, implementing and managing demand response programs for utilities. Honeywell has installed more than 860,000 thermostats and other load control devices to date. It also specializes in meter services, energy management and water solutions.
Headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., KCP&L is a leading regulated provider of electricity in the Midwest. KCP&L is a wholly owned subsidiary of Great Plains Energy Incorporated, the holding company for KCP&L and Strategic Energy LLC, a competitive electricity supplier.
Q: I want a programmable thermostat to save energy, but there are so many different specifications, I have no idea what I need. How can I tell which features are important?
A: Installing a programmable thermostat provides about the best economic return of any energy conservation improvement you can make. The savings range from one to three percent for each 10-degree setback period of eight hours during winter. The percentage savings when air-conditioning is even higher.
The first selection decision to make is how many setback periods you desire per day. The simplest thermostats allow for just one setback period per day, usually overnight.
If you also want to set the temperature back during the day when everyone is either at work or school, select a thermostat with four setback periods per day. This is the most commonly installed type.
Next, determine how many different daily setback schedules your family needs. If each weekday and weekend schedule is the same, you can select an inexpensive 5-plus-2 thermostat. This designation means there is one schedule for five days of the week and another schedule for the two weekend days.
If you need a different schedule on Saturday and Sunday, select a 5-plus-1-plus-1 thermostat. For the option to have different schedules every day of the week, select a seven-day thermostat. A nice feature is a generic preprogrammed setback schedule so you can begin using the thermostat immediately. Take your time to reprogram it.