Patterico's Pontifications

1/7/2008

Bureaucrats Controlling Your Thermostats: The Possibility Is Real

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:29 pm



There is an imbalance between supply and demand in energy, and some California bureaucrats are standing around wondering what to do about it.

One says: “Run commercials asking people to conserve!” This is met with general approval.

Another says: “Make homeowners install thermostats that we bureaucrats can remotely control!” More general approval.

A third says: “Raise . . . prices?”

A roomful of angry people turns on him. “Raise prices — as a way of balancing supply and demand?!?!?! What an idiot!”

That’s California in a nutshell.

It appears that proposal number two — letting bureaucrats control homeowners’ thermostats — is indeed a potential reality. Earlier today I linked an article in the American Thinker written by Joseph Somsel warning of this possibility. Our friend Bradley J. Fikes saw my post, and spent the day checking out Somsel’s allegations and writing a Big Media piece on it. Bradley’s piece begins:

California utilities would control the temperature of new homes and commercial buildings in emergencies with a radio-controlled thermostat, under a proposed state update to building energy efficiency standards.

Customers could not override the thermostats during “emergency events,” according to the proposal, part of a 236-page revision to building standards. The document is scheduled to be considered by the California Energy Commission, a state agency, on Jan. 30.

The description does not provide any exception for health or safety concerns. It also does not define what are “emergency events.”

Sweet. Big Media is good for focusing attention on outrages like this. Once people get the idea that California bureaucrats really want to control our thermostats, it will very possibly be all over talk radio. If I’m right about that, the plan will die a quick death from there.

Congratulations to Joseph and Bradley on their excellent work. I hope it bears fruit.

I get in enough fights with my wife over the thermostat. I don’t need to fight with bureaucrats too.

53 Responses to “Bureaucrats Controlling Your Thermostats: The Possibility Is Real”

  1. you get between 2H6 and the thermostat and even Kevlar w/SAPI plates won’t save ya……

    this will (hopefully) go down as one of the all time top 10 *dumb* things the PRC tried to do.

    redc1c4 (48a20b)

  2. in all seriousness, there had better be at least some health care exemptions built in, both for patient care scenarios, and ancillary support facilities (pharmacies). if the drugs get too warm, they’re no good…… that can be hard on the patients.

    computer areas will also be an issue.

    redc1c4 (48a20b)

  3. Hear, hear, Patterico. In all seriousness and my previous jokes at California and Californians aside, this is a serious assault on freedom. Would also be nice if it came up during the election/primary — a good bat to batter socialist liberals with, metaphorically speaking.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  4. “a good bat to batter socialist liberals with, metaphorically speaking”

    “but it’s for the children”…..”Global Warming”….. “NIMBY”

    what will save California is *EVERYONE* who wasn’t born here going back home, whether that be New York or Nuevo Laredo. i’m available to help y’all pack, and i’ll even donate the use of my truck if you’ll cover my gas & food.

    Welcome to California.
    (now go home)

    redc1c4 (48a20b)

  5. An agonizing PC test for the limousine liberal environmentalist:
    Will they allow bureaucrats to control the A/C in their 10,000 square foot homes?

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  6. This is only the beginning – and among the least intrusive – of the many things that will be done in the name of preventing global warming.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  7. Thank you for the kind mention, Patterico. Maybe some other reporters will take heed from this and learn the blogosphere can be their friend, not a nuisance.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  8. I get in enough fights with my wife over the thermostat. I don’t need to fight with bureaucrats too.

    Riiight – gee so do I – My arguments go alittle like this:

    What setting do you want it on dear?

    Why yes Dear, I’ll turn it up right away

    Yeah – fights with the wife :)

    EricPWJohnson (92aae0)

  9. Two words : Faraday Cage.

    Commenter (57fa98)

  10. My sister’s college apartment had a thermostat with a lock on it so that only the landlord could adjust the temperature. During the winter the girls taped a bag of ice to the thermostat to increase the temperature in the rest of the apartment.

    Can the California bureaucrats design a system that can’t be just as easily defeated with a bag of ice or a space heater?

    Mike S (d3f5fd)

  11. his is a much more intrusive system than any othe others out there.

    Next, the criteria will be based upon how much space each person needs (look up how little space the environuts think you need). Your power allotment will be based on this.

    Time to read 1984 to the voters.

    davod (5bdbd3)

  12. Sorry. Left a few letters out.

    This is a much more intrusive system than any of the others out there.

    Next, the criteria will be based upon how much space each person needs (look up how little space the environuts think you need). Your power allotment will be based on this.

    Time to read 1984 to the voters.

    davod (5bdbd3)

  13. A Modest Counter Proposal.

    Remove all climate control facilities from State buildings. Remove their computers, replacing them with typewriters.

    Think of all the power that would be saved.

    LarryD (feb78b)

  14. Can the California bureaucrats design a system that can’t be just as easily defeated with a bag of ice or a space heater?

    Tampering with the system will be illegal, so there will be penalties for violations.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  15. Tampering with the system will be illegal, so there will be penalties for violations.

    Physically tampering with the device sure, but I don’t see how they could constitutionally bar you from hanging a bag of ice in your house. Even in California.

    Taltos (4dc0e8)

  16. a faraday cage won’t work if the control signals come through the wires instead of through the air, i.e., radio. what taltos said about the icebags

    assistant devil's advocate (1e0d99)

  17. I am long past being shocked at the behavior of the Bitty Brained Bureaurats.

    Bar Sinister (8f03e9)

  18. Physically tampering with the device sure, but I don’t see how they could constitutionally bar you from hanging a bag of ice in your house. Even in California.

    That wouldn’t work. The thermostat will obey the emergency signal. Customers will not be allowed to override it.

    This is in the description (emphasis mine)

    “Upon receiving an emergency signal, the PCT shall respond to commands contained in the emergency signal, including changing the set-point by any number of degrees or to a specific temperature set-point. The PCT shall not allow customer changes to thermostat settings during emergency events.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  19. The systems are going to be wireless, otherwise, they’d have to also install a data hardline into every building, too much infrastructure, so a faraday cage would work. As for the bag of ice, it would trick the heating system into thinking it was colder in the room than it is, the signal only alters the setpoints, so you can fool it. Example : you set your thermostat to 80, the system resets it to 68, but you put a bag of ice so it thinks the room is only 50, you win. replace bag of ice with a lamp or other heater in summer to keep the AC running.

    Commenter (57fa98)

  20. The PCT shall not allow customer changes to thermostat settings during emergency events.“

    Right, you can’t change the settings at which the thermostat will actuate. But you can cause it to actuate by affecting the temperature the thermostat senses. That, and as has been mentioned, about an hour after the first of these is installed, hacking instructions will be available online.

    Pablo (99243e)

  21. And what will prevent California’s Duma from requiring a real time remote video camera installed alongside the thermostat to detect tampering?

    nk (4bb3c1)

  22. Not a thing. But I’d get really good at casually tossing stuff to drape over said camera…

    Scott Jacobs (425810)

  23. Physically tampering with the device sure, but I don’t see how they could constitutionally bar you from hanging a bag of ice in your house. Even in California.

    Comment by Taltos

    I don’t know…. I did 90 days for pulling the mattress tag off a few years ago… :)

    voice of reason (10af7e)

  24. commenter (#19), there’s already a data hardline into every building. data can be sent and received over the electric wires. i have one of those fancy new electric meters at my house. the coos-curry electric cooperative can read it right from its home office without having to send a guy out, and it does so over the wires, not through a radio signal.

    assistant devil's advocate (1e0d99)

  25. Of course thermostat control would be unnecessary if we had a reliable source of LNG to cover any “emergency events”.

    Celebrities lead the fight against the Cabrillo Natural Gas Terminal.
    Thanks Laird Hamilton, Daryl Hannah, Peirce Brosnan, Halle Berry.

    What kind of pinheaded politician takes energy policy advice from a surfer, an ex mermaid, an ex Brit, and a girl who mistook the academy of motion pictures rewarding her for playing a drug addicted wife of a death row inmate as her own Rosa Parks moment?

    papertiger (3a3033)

  26. #24 interesting, i was not aware of that. well, the 150W lamp will keep the thermostat warm when you want the AC cranked to sub-zero :)

    Commenter (57fa98)

  27. Interesting point about the LNG terminal.

    I dicussed the topic here:

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/07/new_nukes_for_california.html

    Essentially, the Cabrillo terminal was to bring in Australian LNG. By killing it, we’ll depend on the terminal in Mexico that imports Indonesian gas now but will depend on Russian gas for expanded, future deliveries.

    Our current electric expansion plans depend almost exclusively on natural-gas. Ergo, California will soon be dependent on the Russians to keep the lights on.

    We’ll be adding an addiction to Russian gas to our addiction to imported oil.

    Joseph Somsel (bea526)

  28. Joe ,

    Do you have a link to Chuck DeVore’s proposition handy? I can gaurantee at least half a dozen blog endorcements by the end of the day. (Maybe even an Instalanch 😉

    [no promises on the Reynolds link]

    papertiger (3a3033)

  29. On the drawing board:

    The radio controlled “Sheryl Crow” Toilet Paper dispenser that meters toilet paper usage. If the consumer exceeds a weekly TP quota, the TP roll freezes and stops dispensing TP until a bureaucrat flips a remote switch.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  30. Ultimately economics will win out. If they do this, people will trick the thermostats. If they “fix” that, people will buy portable AC and heating units. If they ban them, people will go black market. If they start penalizing people for having them, people will leave and the state economy will collapse.

    It’s a mind-numbingly stupid thing to do, the consequences CANNOT be good, and I’m not willing to presume good intentions on the part of the control-freak bureaucrats.

    At some point there has to be a constitutional challenge. The “Planning/Code” restrictions have already gone too far without any real oversight – it’s just a racket the bureaucrats have discovered to get around restrictions on their power.

    Merovign (4744a2)

  31. Sounds like the movie Brasil or was it Brazil?
    I’m stock piling incandesant light bulbs, hi flo toilets and gooob free thermostats, oh ya & R134 refrigerant (it’s a greenhouse gas multiplier too)

    Smitty (6a16a8)

  32. The initiative on nuclear has been withdrawn. The reason is that it cost $25 million or more to get to the election with a much less than 100% probablity of sucess. They figure that $10 million on lawyers is a better bet.

    In any case, here is the “inactive” proposition:

    http://ag.ca.gov/cms_attachments/initiatives/pdfs/2007-07-17_07-0027_Initiative_A2S.pdf

    Joseph Somsel (bea526)

  33. Would also be nice if it came up during the election/primary — a good bat to batter socialist liberals with, metaphorically speaking.

    There are no statewide elective offices up for election this year. (Governor, et al, are elected for four year terms in non-presidential election even years).

    Almost all, if not all, of the legislative districts were gerrymandered so that there is no meaningful intra-party competition.

    It’s not going to come up.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  34. This idea is a complete joke and won’t do more than annoy businesses. Most Californians will quickly adapt to the idea of covering the thermostats temperature sensor with ice when they want to overrun the heating setting, or putting a heat lamp on it when they want the A/C to turn on. And it would have even less effect on many older buildings which have A/C units that aren’t connected to any thermostats.

    Probably the only area this would hit would be businesses, which would quickly scream about the lack of productivity during the summer months when heat waves drive the interior temperature of their buildings into the 90’s, but the “emergency” feature shuts down the A/C to keep energy usage down.

    But anyone who believes that the CA assembly cares about business……well…..give me a call, I have some beach front property in Montana to sell you.

    Mvargus (8c2339)

  35. Looks like BIG BROTHER in KALIFORNIA is going to regulate your power wattage just like they did in communists russia in the bad old days of the USSR

    krazy kagu (9b4d22)

  36. The other night, I got into an argument with my buddy the bartender (ok, I didn’t know I was getting into the argument, but it turns out he was just a little drunk). He was complaining about the new Illinois law banning smoking inside ANY public building, or within 15 feet of a window, door, or vent. (Home businesses are exempt only if the public does not enter). He was, of cource, yelling “Thank you republicans! this is what we get with Bush in the whitehouse!!”

    I kindly reminded him that it was a purely Illinois law, passed by a democrat-controlled state Senate and State House, and signed by our democrat govenor.

    I wish I could say it shut him up.

    It’s amazing… The most firmly blue states are the ones who most forfully interfier with the lives of their residents…

    Scott Jacobs (425810)

  37. Scott, that’s amazing BDS.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  38. More than BDS…

    He’s an honest to god Socialist.

    I think I’m done going to that bar…

    Scott Jacobs (425810)

  39. What I find somewhat particularly appalling about this is a combination of how little it will do, and how easily it will be bypassed, as well as who it will most negatively affect.

    When I was in college, our apartments on-campus had “pre-set” thermostats. Of course, we disagreed with the Physical Plant on what they should be set to. It was a rare apartment that didn’t have a “picture hook” above the thermostat for hanging ice bags, or something warmed in the microwave in the summer…

    The ineffectualness of this (expensive, hard to maintain, and requiring constant monitoring) is easily demonstrated by my college days, and others in this thread.

    Of course, due to the physical threats made in this and the other threads, now we’ll require someone to be tasked with “testing” responsiveness to the signals, so now there will be a group of people paid and tasked with ensuring the system works as designed.

    Most people will just go get a window unit. Only those who can’t afford one will be affected by this. Or who are unable to either mount one. So the weight comes down on the poor and disabled.

    But what just absolutely disgusts me is that this is not the solution to the problem. It does not affect electric dryers (the single biggest energy user in the average home.) It doesn’t affect, for instance, swimming pools. It doesn’t really affect total power usage.

    If this was really about the actual problem, the best solution would be either to restrict power to each home (allowing the consumers the choice of where to utilize it), or to (imagine this) increase the price.

    Unix-Jedi (75e970)

  40. I’m reading the phrase “increase the price” a lot here.

    How about “unlock the price?” Or even (gasp) “deregulated the price?”

    The problem isn’t that the price is wrong, it’s that the price isn’t allowed to respond to market conditions, which, along with the restrictions on production, causes shortages.

    Merovign (4744a2)

  41. Quote w/o comment:

    “California state health officials commemorate the ten-year anniversary of smoke-free bars in California and highlighted a new law that protects Californians against the danger of secondhand smoke. The “Smoke-free Cars with Minors” law, which took effect January 1, 2007, bans smoking in a car carrying a minor.” – Medical News Today

    JayHub (0a6237)

  42. Merovign – “The problem isn’t that the price is wrong, it’s that the price isn’t allowed to respond to market conditions, which, along with the restrictions on production, causes shortages.”

    I agree that most of our power problems relate back to the restrictions on the building of new production plants in the last couple of generations, but remain unconvinced that deregulation will not create more problems than it solves.

    People have always wanted reliable power over the cheapest possible power. Question, would you pay a premium for power that was sure to be available all the time rather than a reduced price for power that was an on and off proposition? I certainly would and I agree with the statement that beginning in the 19th century “early regulation of the industry proved beneficial to both the electric companies and their customers, who got reliable, reasonably priced service without the uncertainties caused by duplicate services and inefficient operations.” – Edison Electric Institute

    The system we had in place worked very well for 100 years. Admittedly, California’s attempt at deregulation was an unmitigated botch job, but I think the system was not broken and didn’t need fixing. What we needed was some more plants being built, nuclear or otherwise.

    JayHub (0a6237)

  43. The system we had in place worked very well for 100 years. Admittedly, California’s attempt at deregulation was an unmitigated botch job, but I think the system was not broken and didn’t need fixing. What we needed was some more plants being built, nuclear or otherwise.

    So … it did not work well for 100 years after all, since it was not actually building power generation.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  44. The fatal mistake by Davis was the decision to regulate retail prices for consumers (not businesses) and deregulate the wholesale market. The big utilities, which had been stripped of their generating capacity and reduced to brokers, asked to be allowed to sign long term contracts at rates that were still low. This was refused under the mistaken impression that rates would fall. The basic problem, as I understand it, is that no one in the state government is willing to allow retail prices to float. There was a brief period when SDG&E had huge price jumps and consumption fell radically.

    The solution to this scheme is to allow “smart metering” on homes like they do on business. If you use the A/C during the day, you pay more per kwh. One consideration is that people who use heat and A/C during the day at home will be disproportionately elderly and vulnerable to these fluctuations. If this happens, there will be a heat wave and 500 old folks will die at home of heat stroke. There was such an incident in Chicago in 1995. I was visiting and arrived on the first day of the heat wave. My mother was living in a high rise building that had not yet switched to A/C from heat as it was in June. The temp was 105. I went straight to a Circuit City and bought a window A/C for her. She was 97 at the time. For a week, she had the only air conditioned apartment in the 33 story building. Needless to say, she had a lot of company that week.

    This is CAFE standards all over again. The politicians will choose rationing like this proposal, over allowing price to determine demand. This is gas shortages again. Democrats just don’t understand economics and keep thinking you can change behavior with rules instead of price

    There are people who know more about this than I do but that is the way I remember the Davis story.

    Mike K (86bddb)

  45. Attempts to impose a totalitarian solution, on a problem that can be solved via the market, will ultimately be corrected under Rule 7.62!

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  46. Wonder if Patterico would approve of jury nullification if tampering with these things became a criminal offense?

    kaf (6e6ac1)

  47. One can argue pro and con on real time prices for residences. I suspect that most people like the flat rates we have today (sorta). Would people modify their behaviors to spread out the load? Would you do your laundry after midnight to save 25 cents a load?

    Besides any systemic savings, there will be winners and losers. I suspect families will be the losers since time and convenience are important with a pack of kids. As I noted, the Central Valley will definitely lose while the coastal areas with more temperate temperatures will reap most of the benefits.

    Ask yourself, why are cell phone companies advertising so extensively their “any time minutes” plans? Answer- that’s what the customers want. Of course cell phone service and electric service do differ but the also share analogous cost structures of high fixed costs.

    I remember our sometimes heated discussions of jury nullification! (I said it was a DUTY of citizens to serve as a final quality control check on judges and prosecutors and law writers.)

    Joseph Somsel (820b83)

  48. Don’t forget the increase in the price of energy when the power companies realise they are not gettting enough cash.

    davod (5bdbd3)

  49. I thought more about it, since Patterico first posted it and my opinion is:

    1) It’s not going to happen unless California’s politicians are really, really stupid; or
    2) The more it happens, the more likely it is to stop happening.

    The first time a citizens’ thermostat is messed with, he’s going to call his Duma-member and say “Either this stupid law goes or you go”.

    nk (4bb3c1)

  50. Limbaugh had this issue on his show yesterday.

    otcconan (0bb609)

  51. Ok NK, Did you call your state senator or assemblyman?

    For you non-Californians, don’t sneer. You ARE next – especially New Jersey and Tennessee. That Energy bill telling you what lightbulbs to use included major planning efforts to make PCTs and “demand response” technologies nation-wide.

    Joseph Somsel (bea526)

  52. Could you over-ride the thermostat with a cutting torch? :-))

    All the Californians will be moving to Alberta. ;o) We welcome all sorts of furriners here…and, you won’t need air conditioning very much here. Besides, our beer is a lot better too :o)

    Darbs (653542)

  53. I’m not as troubled–In emergencies, energy utilities already have the authority to reduce or terminate service until supply is restored. Dialing down the air conditioner seems like a less intrusive subset of power rationing.

    No Oil for Pacifists (eab0d0)


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