Sure, we’re all a bit jealous that they’ve got fantastic mountains and beaches and vineyards just laying around, and it’s easy to roll their citizenry into one granola-munching stereotype, but whatever you look askance at them for, you have to admit they sure come up with a lot of interesting ideas. Some better than others, of course. In a proposed set of building energy efficiency standards, due to be approved on January 30th of this year, the California Energy Commission mandated the installation in all homes of a “Programmable Communicating Thermostat”. The PCTs would be linked into a radio network controlled by energy utilities, and if there was an emergency or demand was too high, those utilities could remotely change the level of the thermostats to reduce loads on the power grid. Faster than you can say “Eric Blair”, people got all worked up about government interventionism. Rightly, I think- it’s an interesting technology, and it’s a useful application of it, but even if the mandatory nature of the box installation doesn’t bug you, the vagueness of the rule should.
The thermostat control would be exercised only in cases of need… said Adam Gottlieb, a spokesman for the California Energy Commission.
Utilities know how to interpret the new mandate, he said, and when to apply it, even though the definitions are not specified in the document.
Exemptions for people with health problems and other special cases were also promised, but no mention of them is made in the standards. As quoted in the IHT, a spokeswoman for the pilot program of the radio network controlling the thermostats said the network is secure and impossible to hack, which I think is spokespersonese for “Will you stop asking me technical questions if I say it’s foolproof?”
Since the kerfluffle, the standard has been changed, to make opting into the radio-control part of the program optional- but installation of the devices in new buildings remains mandatory. What have we learned? California isn’t as government-control-happy as some people like to imagine, and invocations of “Big Brother” are getting really boring. Won’t someone please write a new definitive work of fictional authoritarianism so we can beat that to death for a while?
As much as I don’t like the idea of the mandatory participation in the fuzzily defined program, if I lived in California, I’d sign up to let them radio-control my thermostat. Honestly, it won’t do them much good- my thermostat is accurate to within 10 degrees, and I lose all the heat or AC out of my unsealed windows 15 minutes after my unit shudders off, so I don’t keep it on much (and while it’s on, it sounds like someone is driving a dump truck up and down my hall- but that’s only annoying for me, really). And if they worked the program out to be more specific and secure, to include the special exceptions, and to be more open to public debate in the first place, well, I’d probably be ok with doing it involuntarily. After all, it’s a public utility- it’s not a right- and we’re happy enough paying to use its juice the rest of the time. But when things get rough, we refuse to unplug the TV or put on a sweater? Good grief, it’s not like they want us to pay for the electricity we don’t use- it’d even lower your bill some.
If you want a steady supply of electrons to keep your fishtank and lights and Cuisinart and AC on all the time, build your own plant, and suck off that- no one is making you connect to the grid in the first place. Duuuuude, if we all had solar panels or windmills or biomass collections for our composters, the grid wouldn’t be stretched so thin already.