Is Your Air Conditioner Working? Not In California!by Brad Warbiany
Occasionally there are changes coming down the pipe that even non-politicos don’t like. Usually, the only ones that draw ire from the “average” citizen are those that are widespread and hit close to home.
California has proposed a policy that so neatly fits both categories that people like my wife (a probable Obama voter!) respond in shock and disbelief. From their Energy Commission’s newly-proposed rules about your thermostat (PDF, see pages 63-64):
(c) Thermostats. All unitary heating and/or cooling systems including heat pumps that are not controlled by a central energy management control system (EMCS) shall have a Programmable Communicating Thermostat (PCT) that is certified by the manufacturer to the Energy Commission to meet the requirements of Subsections 112(c)(1) and 112(c)(2) below:
1. Setback Capabilities. All PCTs shall have a clock mechanism that allows the building occupant to program the temperature set points for at least four periods within 24 hours. Thermostats for heat pumps shall meet the requirements of Section 112(b).
2. Communicating Capabilities. All PCTs shall be distributed with a non-removable Radio Data System (RDS) communications device that is compatible with the default statewide DR communications system, which can be used by utilities to send price and emergency signals. PCTs shall be capable of receiving and responding to the signals indicating price and emergency events as follows.
A. Price Events. The PCT shall be shipped with default price-event offsets of +4°F for cooling and -4°F for heating enabled; however, customers shall be able to change the offsets and thermostat settings at any time during price events. Upon receiving a price-event signal, the PCT shall adjust the thermostat setpoint by the number of degrees indicated in the offset for the duration specified in the signal of the price event. The PCT shall also be equipped with the capability to allow customers to define setpoints for heating and cooling in response to price signals as an alternative to temperature-offsetting response, as described in Reference Joint Appendix JA5.
B. Emergency Events. Upon receiving an emergency signal, the PCT shall respond to commands contained in the emergency signal, including changing the setpoint by any number of degrees or to a specific temperature setpoint. The PCT shall not allow customer changes to thermostat settings during emergency events.
If for any reason the state-regulated utilities deem that there is an “emergency”, they can do anything they want to your air conditioner or heater, and the thermostat gives you NO ability to override the setting. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got an elderly person sweltering in the summer heat in the central valley who cannot handle a few hours in extreme temperatures, you cannot change the thermostat. Of course, this isn’t new technology. In fact, the utilities were offering discounts to those buyers who voluntarily installed these thermostats. But I’m guessing either not enough people were adopting them for the nannies in Sacramento, or the utilities got tired of TOO MANY people adopting the technology, and wanted it mandated so they wouldn’t have to offer discounts.
Now, this is all an effort to mitigate the effects of high power draw in the hot summer months, when people are running their air conditioners. In the past, these situations have resulted in rolling blackouts and much political strife from the constituents. Those of us who have some economic sense and a history of California would point out that most of the woes this is intended to solve are the unintended consequences of California’s royally incompetent regulation and “de”regulation of their energy sector. Screwy regulatory hurdles, NIMBYism, and lobbying have resulted in a system which has completely destroyed any semblance of a market, and artificially limited increases in supply which might have kept electricity plentiful and prices low. Instead of fixing the problem, they’re simply adding another layer.
There’s still time to put a stop to this. If you live in California, contact the “process administrator” of these proceedings, Chris Gekas. Or your local legislator. Any complaint needs to be registered by January 30th, or this thing will go through without a problem.
Of course, there’s always the chance that it will go through anyway. If that occurs, my plan is good old-fashioned civil disobedience. If my next home has one of these installed, I will order a thermostat from out-of-state or– given that I’m an electrical engineer– find a way to disable the radio. The State of California may mandate this sort of idiocy, but it’s too bloated and inefficient to enforce it (once you get through an initial building inspection), so I would recommend others do the same. When the rest of the state is sweltering through a hot summer day without A/C, those of us who still value freedom can invite our neighbors over and explain to them the folly of big government.