Colorado Residents Lose Control Of Their ‘Smart’ Thermostats, Swelter In 88 Degree Heat
from the I'm-sorry-I-can't-do-that,-Dave dept
During a heat wave last summer, some Texans were shocked to wake up and find that their local energy company had turned up their thermostats in the night to save energy. Houston locals weren’t exactly thrilled to wake up sweating in the night to the sound of dehydrated, crying infants.
As it turns out, consumers has participated in a “sweepstakes” that covertly enrolled them in a program named “Smart Savers Texas” operated by a company called EnergyHub. The fine print for that program effectively turned control of these folks’ smart thermostat to the utility company.
Of course, you wouldn’t need to trick users into giving up control of their thermostats using sweepstakes and mouseprint if the grid was capable of handling fluctuations. And the grid would be able to handle fluctuations if Texas utility regulators hadn’t spent the better part of the last decade fecklessly collapsing in the face of energy sector lobbying pressure time after time.
Last week, the same thing happened again in Colorado. 22,000 Denver residents suddenly found themselves locked out of their own smart thermostats during a heat wave and sweltering in 88 degree temperatures:
“I mean, it was 90 out, and it was right during the peak period,” Talarico said. “It was hot.”
That’s when he saw a message on the thermostat stating the temperature was locked due to an “energy emergency.”
“Normally, when we see a message like that, we’re able to override it,” Talarico said. “In this case, we weren’t. So, our thermostat was locked in at 78 or 79.”
On social media, dozens of Xcel customers complained of similar experiences — some reporting home temperatures as high as 88 degrees.
In this case, customers were enrolled in the Colorado AC Rewards program, which gives them a $100 credit for enrolling and $25 off their bill annually. But it also locks them out of their own thermostat during moments of grid crisis. And while enrolling in the program is voluntarily, it’s pretty clear from news reports that consumer didn’t really know what they were signing up for:
Talarico said he had no idea that he could be locked out of the thermostat. While he has solar panels and a smart thermostat to save energy, he says he did not sign up to have this much control taken away.
“To me, an emergency means there is, you know, life, limb, or, you know, some other danger out there — some, you know, massive wildfires,” Talarico said. “Even if it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon situation, it just doesn’t sit right with us to not be able to control our own thermostat in our house.”
If you somehow hadn’t noticed by now, climate change isn’t going to be pleasant. It’s going to be a continual parade of very dangerous life and death (or limb) situations. And it’s going to be getting exponentially worse, especially in central and Southern states (check out this recent map of the expected spike in consecutive 100 degree days if you haven’t yet).
It’s also going to require folks to make a significant number of concessions they won’t like if we want to, you know, survive. And mandatory systems like these may be part of that, since science, empathy, reason, sacrifice, and collaboration clearly aren’t modern Americans’ strong suits.
At the same time, it’s understandable that people want to control something they own. And a lot of these companies aren’t really making these programs completely clear to consumers, even if consumers may not have the greatest track record when it comes to actually paying attention to what they sign up for.
These are also the same utilities (and in many instances governments) that prioritized profits over infrastructure hardening and climate change mitigation measures for fifty fucking years, and would be more than happy to place the entire onus for adaptation on the backs of consumers and gimmicks, instead of developing more innovative, renewable, adaptive, and resilient energy solutions.