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January 14, 2008

California Backs Down On Home Thermostat Control. Sort Of.

Last week news broke that California energy regulators wanted to require that homes and businesses be fitted with a device which would enable utilities to change the thermostat setting in case of an energy emergency. The requirement would have applied to new constructions or to buildings that have extensive work done to their heating and cooling system.

After getting their hands caught in this Orwellian cookie jar, regulators have modified their proposal. According to a new draft of the rules, the remote controlled thermostats will still be mandatory but building owners will have the ability to override any outside changes.

While thatís somewhat of an improvement, not everyone is satisfied.

"I don't think the CEC (California Energy Commission) should be going into people's homes to control their electricity," said Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, who heads the Assembly committee on utilities and commerce. "The state should provide people with incentives and education to do this on their own."

The committee's vice chairman, Rick Keene, R-Chico, agreed.

"It feels awfully Orwellian to me if you have the utility, with the government's blessing, be able to change the thermostat setting," Keene said.

He said the lack of a clear definition of "emergency event" might allow utilities to cut costs by purposely not buying enough power and then declaring an emergency.

Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based utility consumer watchdog group TURN, said the proposal for remote-controlled thermostats shouldn't "be forced down people's throats."

She also said the program would be expensive and financed by ratepayers. She questioned whether it would be cost-effective.

Several California utilities apparently already have voluntary programs in effect that enable consumers to install these devices in exchange for discounts on their electricity bills.

Of course regulators arenít interested in voluntary programs. Those donít give them much to do or nearly as much control of people's lives.

The new regulations won't be voted on until January 30th, so there is still time for additional modifications to the proposal.

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posted by DrewM. at 12:40 PM

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