Patterico's Pontifications


Thermostat Outrage Hits New York Times

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:27 pm

The New York Times has done a story on the Impending Thermostat Outrage, here. It begins:

The conceit in the 1960s show “The Outer Limits” was that outside forces had taken control of your television set.

Next year in California, state regulators are likely to have the emergency power to control individual thermostats, sending temperatures up or down through a radio-controlled device that will be required in new or substantially modified houses and buildings to manage electricity shortages.

This will bring more attention to this ridiculous outrage. Of course, the reporter doesn’t quite seem to get what’s going on, as evidenced by this passage:

The fact that similar radio-controlled technologies have been used on a voluntary basis in irrigation systems on farm fields and golf courses and in limited programs for buildings on Long Island is seldom mentioned in Internet postings that make liberal use of references of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” and “Big Brother,” the omnipresent voice of Orwell’s police state.

Why would we mention it? That little word I bolded is the difference between the proposed plan and what has happened in the past. You want to have people voluntarily let the government control their thermostats? Great. As long as I don’t have to sign up.

But that’s OK. Even if New York Times reporters can’t understand this, I think homeowners can. This article will help get the word out — and that’s a good thing.

Once again, hats off to Somsel (and to Fikes for bringing the story to print media).

UPDATE: By the way, the New York Times story stole Somsel’s lede. Lazy.

43 Responses to “Thermostat Outrage Hits New York Times”

  1. Years ago Utah Power as well asked farmers to allow them to install such meters on their systems. I know I had two of them. As well they cut our rate. Now running two 50 HP electric motors does not take much energy in the view of the total, they indeed suck on the straw and pretty hard as they run 24/7 during the irrigation season.

    The only real scare was if during a big wind the pumps were to shut off allowing the then empty wheel lines to blow all over the field getting destroyed in the process. Such never happened as as near as I can remember they only shut off a few times and I think it was more for testing in the first year.

    As well that program was VOLUNTARY!

    TC (1cf350)

  2. Patterico, thank you for being the crucial intermediary that made it possible.

    This story would eventually have gone national anyway, but you greatly sped the process. And with the CEC hearing on Jan. 30, time is important for the public to learn about this.

    Bradley J. Fikes (86e994)

  3. my principal heat source in the winter is my woodburning stove. i live minutes away from the siskiyou national forest. stories like this make me laugh.

    assistant devil's advocate (fd3450)

  4. For the most part RDS is used by radio stations to transmit song names to your car stereo, or for paging in the 80’s. It’s a very slow, one-way, data system (~600 bits/second) sent over subcarrier on FM stations.

    The low data rate makes it impossible to address individual receivers in a reasonable period of time, so I’m fairly sure that a mandated system is either unworkable, or will result in lowering every thermostat in the city. At best they could address groups of thermostats, and getting the installed devices to match up with anyu given locale seems difficult. Unless, of course, it’s voluntary and you’re helping.

    If voluntary, I will happily allow them to turn off my air conditioning at their whim for a mere 10% discount on my electrical service. I’m pretty sure most of my neighbors will, too. Except those with AC, perhaps.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  5. BTW, the sprinkler systems where RDS was used, back when, were largely under the control of the farm owners, and for their benefit, not the state’s. I used to work designing FM subcarrier systems, so I have some knowledge here.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  6. In the name of public safety and to manage the power grid, I propose that bloggers have control of the on/off switch for the NYT’s print presses. On those sweltering summer days, most citizens would rather have A/C than a copy of the New York Times.

    Its for the children!

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  7. I had several long discussions with the reporter as she prepared her report. I’ll admit it was with some apprehension given the NYT’s reputation.

    I have to defend her a bit – she asked good questions, seemed to catch on to the issues, and called back to verify that she was quoting me correctly. She indeed corrected one or two misunderstandings on her part, perhaps items were I wasn’t clear enough in the first place.

    I’m reasonably satisfied with the end product, considering it’s the New York Times. OK, so it ain’t the Wall Street Journal or the North County Times!

    She and Bradley shared the vision and ambition to better integrate the on-line world with the dead tree media.

    She was inordinately interested in the water issue, something I could make no contribution to. I couldn’t quite make the connection either.

    My biggest grip is that Ralph Cavanagh was allowed to make his false choice argument without direct rebuttal. She did quote an email in another part of the piece that did join the issue – more generation is the needed, not ways to make shortages more palatable.

    And I agree, Patterico made a critical contribution here. I’ve always admired his clear thinking and entertaining subjects. He has my thanks and my respect.

    Joseph Somsel (bd0ac9)

  8. Thanks, Joseph.

    So how do you feel about the NYT stealing your lede?

    Kinda lazy, dontcha think?

    Patterico (4bda0b)


    Almost like Homer at work. Thanks Cal-ISO!

    voiceofreason (6ad66c)

  10. Just wait until the Budget cuts hit in CA. Want to make a bet they cut union hating teachers who are effective, release violent felons who rape and kill, and raise union and legislature benefits? You think the bureaucrats are powerdrunk now??? Just wait until they start exercising Chinese style control over your Internet and Broadcast media. Bye Bye, Bill Handel!

    PCD (5c49b0)

  11. If they implement this, how long do you think it will be before someone hacks together a low power transmitter and starts driving around town messing with people’s thermostats?

    Stephen Macklin (fc20a6)

  12. #11
    Several years ago one of the Airborne Emergency Action Command Posts had some new equipment installed.
    It took off from Offut AB in Nebraska and as it flew out a large number of garage doors in the city opened mysteriously!

    voice of reason (10af7e)

  13. Mr. P,

    About the lede – my opinion? The idea was TOO obvious. She got into writing her article then called and apologized. She asked permission as a courtesy and I said “OK.” Besides, my use was borderline “fair use” anyway. I hope you’re not saying I share the ethics of the NYT?

    The hacker-suspectability of the system seems a topic of controversy. I don’t want to go into any detail but such vulnerablities ALREADY exist in the US and international electric systems – why add another? Note that I define “vulnerablity” as any Internet based command and control system. I’m not saying a hacker can do damage already but I’m NOT saying, like the lady at PG&E, that they CAN’T. A lot of US and foreign money and talent is going into offensive and defensive research. I do have a bit of professional experience in this area but am by no means an expert.

    Joseph Somsel (e71789)

  14. And im living here in KALIFORNIA and we areun by dictators,despots and tyrants

    krazy kagu (614414)

  15. If I were a Californian, I would concentrate more on the need for greater power generation and less on the word “voluntary.”

    Because at best all you’ll get is a small revision that will raise the price of your electricity 500% if you “voluntarily” opt out of having a controller installed by choosing the state’s “enemy of the people” price plan. It’s your choice.

    Don’t get me wrong; coercion is their real goal here, just for the sheer psychological fix that it gives to the self-anointed, and it should be opposed. But you need to augment the anti-coercion argument with an alternate solution to the overall power shortage.

    ras (fc54bb)

  16. The whole budget crisis story is a new version of the “Pothole response” of any city government to a funding shortfall. The first thing you do is cut visible and highly emotional items to create outrage. Lay off all the firefighters, for example. No bureaucrat worth his pension spike would actually try to cut out the fat in a budget when times are lean. That might mean that those cuts become permanent. This is a phony proposal and the true story will not appear for another couple of months; at least until doctors are being paid with state scrip. Then we’ll talk.

    I believe that the thermostat story is true, although I doubted it at first, but the 10% cuts that Ahnold is talking about are newspaper fodder.

    Mike K (86bddb)

  17. My biggest beef with the NYT article is a generic complaint: It uses those silly automated links, which often are irrelevant. So the really important links, such as to the CEC proposal or Joe Somsel’s orginal article are missing. These can only be added by a thinking human, not an automated program. Instead the story has unenlightening links, such as to George Orwell.

    A recent NYT story, which used the acronym for the National Recovery Administration, tripped one of those dumb automated links — to the National Rifle Association! (the link has since been removed.) Mike K. flagged that error.

    Hint to NYT: Using more hand-crafted hyperlinks added by thinking humans and canning the useless automated links will add value to your stories.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  18. Any doubt about the thermostat story’s veracity was removed in my mind after I talked with a California Energy Commission spokesman. Even aside from the mandatory nature of the program, the lack of definition of what is an emergency, and provision for special needs was worrisome. If the emergency control event is not defined in the specification, the definition of what is an emergency is left entirely up to the discretion of the utility and the Public Utility Commission. And because the system will be hard-wired into new homes, there won’t be any way for homeowners to opt out. The link to the state’s control network is non-removable.

    I asked the CEC spokesman, where in the proposal is “emergency” defined? Where are the exemptions for those with medical needs?

    “Those are good questions,” he said.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  19. The roll-up issue on the thermostats is that Californians have really only four options:

    1) coercive conservations (the PCTs and more to come)

    2) increased use of Russian liquefied natural gas

    3) new nuclear power plants

    4) devolution to a 3rd World economy

    I’ve consistently and repeatedly argued for more nuclear power plants. I’ve even offered detailed government funding plans and suggested sites. While this piece is a couple of years old, it is still valid in concept. To update it, we could add independently financed projects as the one Warren Buffet is proposing in Idaho on a major transmission line that could supply the state. Mr Darby of PG&E has suggested we consider Mr. Buffet’s project.

    So, Mr. Ras, such solid suggestions are in circulation but have not yet “broke out” into the MSM. The issue of thermostats has proved an excellent vehicle to spark debate that can put REAL solutions out for public scrutiny and consideration.

    Joseph Somsel (bea526)

  20. So Cal Edison already has a voluntary program wherein customers permit occasional A/C shut offs at peak power periods via a device attached to the compressor outside. A benefit is reduced electrical costs during summer months.

    We used to subscribe but no longer do due to health reasons.

    I can see one danger in the volunteer aspect. The Elite say “not enough of them are volunteering, therefore, we need to make it mandatory.”

    ManlyDad (d62cf6)

  21. I must admit surprise when people didn’t believe me at first! In retrospect, I think that was justified – how could the technocrats be so tone deaf to American political values?

    But we engineers get caught up in our projects. The demand response people were given a task – shave peak demand – and constructed a sound proposal based on engineering thinking. Unfortunately, most American see fatal flaws in the assignment.

    I bet they feel like the guy who designed the absolutely masterpiece for the “bridge to nowhere.”

    Joseph Somsel (bea526)

  22. 12, VOR, so that’s what happened. The wife thought the garage door was haunted.

    PCD (5c49b0)

  23. PCD,


    voice of reason (10af7e)

  24. BTW, here’s another, more recent article explicitly analyzing the state’s energy options and offering specific proposals:

    Joseph Somsel (bea526)

  25. Of course it’s voluntary. If we tell you to do it or else, and you do it, that’s voluntary.

    ZZMike (b5d255)

  26. On Lubos Motl’s blog, commenter Bob Hawkins posed an interesting question regarding the constitutionality of this revision.
    He asserts that this is a violation of the Third Ammendment prohibition of government forcing citizens to quarter soldiers in their private homes.
    The founders didn’t make a distinction between “soldier” and “agent of government” so that line can be quite blurry. Since this PCT would be an extention of the agents of government permanently stationed in private homes, I think his opinion has merit.
    What say you?

    papertiger (3b614c)

  27. BREAKING — The mandatory part of the revision is going to be removed, said Claudia Chandler of the California Energy Commission

    Energy Commision to remove mandatory thermostat control

    By: BRADLEY J. FIKES — North County Times

    The California Energy Commission will remove a proposed mandatory control feature from thermostats required in new homes, Claudia Chandler, the commission’s assistant executive director, said Friday.

    The control feature, specified in an upcoming revision to building codes, would have required so-called Programmable Communicating Thermostats to be installed with the air conditioning systems of new homes. These thermostats would have deferred in emergencies to a radio signal broadcast by utilities, removing control from customers.

    After public protests, Chandler said, the commission decided to remove the mandatory provision from the proposal for the “Title 24” energy efficiency standards. Staff will make the recommendation at the energy commission’s Jan. 30 meeting, and the new proposal would be taken up at a later meeting.

    Bradley J. Fikes (749f0e)

  28. papertiger, first of all, I’m pretty sure that the Third Amendment has not been incorporated via the 14th Amendment onto the states. But really, it is a bit of a silly argument.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  29. Sounds like they didn’t change much except the wording. The thermostat would still be transmitting. The utilities will still be able to control your setpoints. Renters and members of housing associations would still be at the whim of government against their will depending on whether or not their landlord or housing association “volunteered” them to participate.

    papertiger (8349ff)

  30. papertiger,

    I asked if the radio receiver part of the thermostat would be made removable. It will not be removable. So that is still going to be a point of contention.

    Bradley J. Fikes (749f0e)

  31. Lets say the State passes a law against smoking and to enforce this law they make FM communicating smoke detectors mandatory for every household. Would that be constitutional?
    It’s about the same thing as PCTs.

    So tell me why a remote control sensoring device placed in your home by the government to combat a fictional threat (AGW) by coercing you to behave as if it were real, isn’t equal to being forced to house troops by the government, at least in intent.
    Both violate the common law aim of the Third Amendment, ie that a man’s home is his castle, and government must respect that boundary except in the case of a specific charge and due process of law.

    papertiger (ab2f41)

  32. papertiger,

    I’d say you should hie thee hence to the Jan. 30 hearing, or at least submit some public comments. The revised revisions will themselves be subject to a 15-day review period. So download them and pick them apart.

    Bradley J. Fikes (749f0e)

  33. papertiger, well it is not the same because it just has nothing to do with the Third Amendment. The thermostat regulation – stupid as it is – would simply provide a method of regulating the time and manner in which a household consumed electric current. The Third Amendment is about the nation using private households to house and feed its soldiers.

    There is no doubt that this form of regulation is within California state government’s powers, just that its a stupid and offensive usage of those powers.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  34. You might have a Fourth Amendment case, papertiger, not Third Amendment. Not a bad Fourth Amendment case, either, seeing as we’re talking about a home.

    nk (dda711)

  35. A lot of electricity will be saved if California abolished hair driers and clothes irons. The police should be authorized to give citations to everyone with neat hair and pressed clothes.

    nk (dda711)

  36. nk, don’t see how a radio controlled thermostat is a “search”. I’m afraid that’s a frivolous argument.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  37. A PCT is an agent of the government. It can sense what you are doing – ie warming your buns. It allows the government to stop your bun warming activity. It’s like having a personal climate cop, always on duty, stationed in your living room.

    Besides I want to do a Third Amendment case. The Third Amendment never gets used. It’s the red haired step child of the Bill of Rights.

    SPQR Article 4 says every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

    California doesn’t have the power to override the Bill of Rights.

    papertiger (ab2f41)

  38. Not a seizure either, you don’t really have a constitutional right to access to all the electric power you want.

    Again, this would be an extraordinarily stupid and offensive exercise of state power, but not an unconstitutional one.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  39. papertiger, you don’t understand. The Bill of Rights does not automatically apply to the states. The Third Amendment has not been incorporated through the 14th Amendment. This is basic constitutional law.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  40. A Griswold v. Connecticutt type Ninth Amendment argument? Agents of the state breaking into our bedrooms in the middle of the night to check what temperature we keep them in?

    nk (dda711)

  41. Got interviewed on ABC Nightly News today – it MIGHT be on tonight’s broadcast.

    Don’t know what they will use, if any of it, but I hit on the fact that Mr. Warren Buffett is considering building a nuke in Idaho to sell me power at market prices. Why would I need rationing? I kindly ask the state of California to step aside and let Mr Buffett sell to my family and the other 35 million Californians.

    I also added that the US Supreme Court has ruled that there is no compelling interest in state intervention in the bedroom. Shouldn’t there be a presumption of similar freedom in the family room too?

    I was asked about “gut feel.” I said that this was an affront to deeply held American values as noted in the thousand comments I’ve read which are running 30 to 1 against. I think that Jefferson, Adams, Paine, Madison, etc would be aghast at this proposal. Hamilton – maybe he’d be OK with it.

    I also noted the question of statutory authority. I hadn’t seen it. If the state legislature would like to vote in open session, during an election year, to implement coercive conservation measures like this one – “Bring it on!”

    Joseph Somsel (86528e)

  42. ada, #3 said: “my principal heat source in the winter is my woodburning stove. i live minutes away from the siskiyou national forest. stories like this make me laugh.”

    He really needs to check with his friends in Aspen and Vail about how they enjoy their wood-burning fire-places and stoves.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

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