Texas Consumers Lose Control Of Their Thermostats, Get Another Crash Course In Value Of Competent Regulators

from the you-don't-own-the-things-you-buy dept

When last we checked in with Texas utility customers, they were literally freezing to death thanks to repeated underinvestment in the state’s utility grid. The Texas utility grid is a unique mish-mash of competitors on its own grid resulting from a massive deregulation effort that didn’t really deliver what was promised. The convoluted mess is overseen by state regulators — detached from federal authority — which have spent a decade ignoring reports calling for a hardening of the grid in the face of climate catastrophe.

Texas consumers have continued to pay higher and higher prices for power. At the same time, state regulators have continued to prioritize the revenues of utility companies over the welfare of the public, and generally (with the occasional exceptions) refused to take the necessary hardening of utility grids in the face of climate change seriously. The results have been what everybody should have expected: an unreliable power grid in the face of both winter and summer extremes created by a destabilizing climate.

During the recent heat wave, some Texans were shocked to wake up to 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. Customers had apparently signed up for a “sweepstakes” where the fine print in a massive, overlong end user agreement gave control of their own AC thermostats over to the local utility:

“The family?s smart thermostat was installed a few years ago as part of a new home security package. Many smart thermostats can be enrolled in a program called “Smart Savers Texas.” It’s operated by a company called EnergyHub.

The agreement states that in exchange for an entry into sweepstakes, electric customers allow them to control their thermostats during periods of high energy demand. EnergyHub?s list of its clients include TXU Energy, CenterPoint and ERCOT.

Groups like the EFF had already raised some concerns about privacy and the loss of consumer control when it comes to the use of “smart meters” (another subject most regulators have been useless on). But that concern largely focused on how the data collected from such devices (which gives a pretty detailed readout of your daily behavior) was being monetized and sold or shared with law enforcement without consumers’ explicit consent. Losing complete control of a device you own (your thermostat) adds an entirely new wrinkle to the battle of maintaining some level of control over the technology you buy.

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:

“Lawmakers and regulators, including the PUC and the industry-friendly Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, have repeatedly ignored, dismissed or watered down efforts to address weaknesses in the state?s sprawling electric grid, which is isolated from the rest of the country.”

It’s all propped up by a bizarre mythology of rugged independence that’s really just obfuscating quite boring and ordinary greed. What the body count has to look like before genuine regulatory reform is implemented or utilities start taking the threat seriously remains to be seen.

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Comments on “Texas Consumers Lose Control Of Their Thermostats, Get Another Crash Course In Value Of Competent Regulators”

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35 Comments
Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re:

Ayup. It’s all them thar damyankee libberals messin up the weather with them thar jewish space lasers anyhow. Just tie a rocket to the moon and move it a bit and we’ll be right as rain…

/s because in reality the damn Texas governor actually did think moving the moon might work

rangersays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

Greg Abbot is correct, man made climate change is a hoax. Here?s a letter from numerous individuals from NASA including Dr. Kris Kraft who name is on Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center. Of course Apollo era and Space Shuttle astronauts, scientists, Engineers, and Management signed this letter to NASA which was purposely ignored. It was written in 2012 and it is valid now like it was in 2012.

March 28, 2012
The Honorable Charles Bolden, Jr.
NASA Administrator
NASA Headquarters
Washington, D.C. 20546-0001
Dear Charlie,

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites. We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.

The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is unbecoming of NASA?s history of making an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements.

As former NASA employees, we feel that NASA?s advocacy of an extreme position, prior to a thorough study of the possible overwhelming impact of natural climate drivers is inappropriate. We request that NASA refrain from including unproven and unsupported remarks in its future releases and websites on this subject. At risk is damage to the exemplary reputation of NASA, NASA?s current or former scientists and employees, and even the reputation of science itself.
For additional information regarding the science behind our concern, we recommend that you contact Harrison Schmitt or Walter Cunningham, or others they can recommend to you.
Thank you for considering this request.
Sincerely,
(Attached signatures)
CC: Mr. John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for Science
CC: Ass Mr. Chris Scolese, Director, Goddard Space Flight Center
Ref:?Letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, dated 3-26-12, regarding a request for NASA to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims that human produced CO2 is having a catastrophic impact on climate change.
/s/ Jack Barneburg, Jack ? JSC, Space Shuttle Structures, Engineering Directorate, 34 years
/s/ Larry Bell ? JSC, Mgr. Crew Systems Div., Engineering Directorate, 32 years
/s/ Dr. Donald Bogard ? JSC, Principal Investigator, Science Directorate, 41 years
/s/ Jerry C. Bostick ? JSC, Principal Investigator, Science Directorate, 23 years
/s/ Dr. Phillip K. Chapman ? JSC, Scientist ? astronaut, 5 years
/s/ Michael F. Collins, JSC, Chief, Flight Design and Dynamics Division, MOD, 41 years
/s/ Dr. Kenneth Cox ? JSC, Chief Flight Dynamics Div., Engr. Directorate, 40 years
/s/ Walter Cunningham ? JSC, Astronaut, Apollo 7, 8 years
/s/ Dr. Donald M. Curry ? JSC, Mgr. Shuttle Leading Edge, Thermal Protection Sys., Engr. Dir., 44 years
/s/ Leroy Day ? Hdq. Deputy Director, Space Shuttle Program, 19 years
/s/ Dr. Henry P. Decell, Jr. ? JSC, Chief, Theory & Analysis Office, 5 years
/s/Charles F. Deiterich ? JSC, Mgr., Flight Operations Integration, MOD, 30 years
/s/ Dr. Harold Doiron ? JSC, Chairman, Shuttle Pogo Prevention Panel, 16 years
/s/ Charles Duke ? JSC, Astronaut, Apollo 16, 10 years
/s/ Anita Gale
/s/ Grace Germany ? JSC, Program Analyst, 35 years
/s/ Ed Gibson ? JSC, Astronaut Skylab 4, 14 years
/s/ Richard Gordon ? JSC, Astronaut, Gemini Xi, Apollo 12, 9 years
/s/ Gerald C. Griffin ? JSC, Apollo Flight Director, and Director of Johnson Space Center, 22 years
/s/ Thomas M. Grubbs ? JSC, Chief, Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Branch, 31 years
/s/ Thomas J. Harmon
/s/ David W. Heath ? JSC, Reentry Specialist, MOD, 30 years
/s/ Miguel A. Hernandez, Jr. ? JSC, Flight crew training and operations, 3 years
/s/ James R. Roundtree ? JSC Branch Chief, 26 years
/s/ Enoch Jones ? JSC, Mgr. SE&I, Shuttle Program Office, 26 years
/s/ Dr. Joseph Kerwin ? JSC, Astronaut, Skylab 2, Director of Space and Life Sciences, 22 years
/s/ Jack Knight ? JSC, Chief, Advanced Operations and Development Division, MOD, 40 years
/s/ Dr. Christopher C. Kraft ? JSC, Apollo Flight Director and Director of Johnson Space Center, 24 years
/s/ Paul C. Kramer ? JSC, Ass.t for Planning Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics Div., Egr. Dir., 34 years
/s/ Alex (Skip) Larsen
/s/ Dr. Lubert Leger ? JSC, Ass?t. Chief Materials Division, Engr. Directorate, 30 years
/s/ Dr. Humbolt C. Mandell ? JSC, Mgr. Shuttle Program Control and Advance Programs, 40 years
/s/ Donald K. McCutchen ? JSC, Project Engineer ? Space Shuttle and ISS Program Offices, 33 years
/s/ Thomas L. (Tom) Moser ? Hdq. Dep. Assoc. Admin. & Director, Space Station Program, 28 years
/s/ Dr. George Mueller ? Hdq., Assoc. Adm., Office of Space Flight, 6 years
/s/ Tom Ohesorge
/s/ James Peacock ? JSC, Apollo and Shuttle Program Office, 21 years
/s/ Richard McFarland ? JSC, Mgr. Motion Simulators, 28 years
/s/ Joseph E. Rogers ? JSC, Chief, Structures and Dynamics Branch, Engr. Directorate,40 years
/s/ Bernard J. Rosenbaum ? JSC, Chief Engineer, Propulsion and Power Division, Engr. Dir., 48 years
/s/ Dr. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt ? JSC, Astronaut Apollo 17, 10 years
/s/ Gerard C. Shows ? JSC, Asst. Manager, Quality Assurance, 30 years
/s/ Kenneth Suit ? JSC, Ass?t Mgr., Systems Integration, Space Shuttle, 37 years
/s/ Robert F. Thompson ? JSC, Program Manager, Space Shuttle, 44 years/s/ Frank Van Renesselaer ? Hdq., Mgr. Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, 15 years
/s/ Dr. James Visentine ? JSC Materials Branch, Engineering Directorate, 30 years
/s/ Manfred (Dutch) von Ehrenfried ? JSC, Flight Controller; Mercury, Gemini & Apollo, MOD, 10 years

Michaelsays:

"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."

Allowing the utility to cycle your A/C to level peak demand is pretty common. I’ve had something like that on my A/C for a couple of decades. The utility has the option of shaving off peaks and the consumer (me) gets a free thermostat and a discounted rates. It’s a win-win. Unfortunately some consumers aren’t self-aware enough to understand what they signed up for.

Many large utility customers also participate demand management by reducing demand when the utility requests. I know of large campuses that maintain whole-campus standby generators just for that reason.

GreatGreenGeeksays:

Re: Re:

It’s also a huge environmental boon. The “last-turned-on” power plants that turn on during this period of extreme demand, often called “peaker-plants” rely on natural gas microturbines that are not terrible efficient (in terms of btus in to kWhs out), pretty dirty (in terms of tons of CO2 per kWh), and pretty costly to run ($/kWh). Curtailing demand during periods of extreme grid-loading is allows the grid to use fewer of these dirtier/more costly power plants.

That said, the dramatic ratchet of the setpoint was incredibly stupid. ASHRAE standard 55, which generally describes the thermal comfort of people in the build environment, has a well defined strategy for ratcheting up the temperature to achieve these changes while minimizing risk of discomfort. It’s the “frog-in-a-pot-of-water” approach. Gradually raise temperature a little bit and people don’t notice. What EnergyHub did was jack up the thermostat, a kin to throwing the frog in a pot of boiling water. It stands to reason that people would be uncomfortable in such a scenario.

Rockysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Another huge environmental boon is actually insulating your house in a meaningful way regardless if you live in a cold or hot climate. That cuts down on the energy used to heat or cool it. In some climates you can actually get away with just having a passive heat-exchanger for your ventilation that takes care of your heating/cooling needs a large part of the year.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

It’s literally the whole point of these programs. Where did the people think the "savings" would come from? I doubt this is some sneaky thing hidden in the fine print, as has been suggested elsewhere (although I get an "access denied" error trying to read the "khou" article). Usually, any affected person can walk back over to their thermostat and turn it up to override the power company setting. While I don’t know the details on this system, it wouldn’t be difficult to design a privacy-respecting one that simply broadcast a "grid overloaded" status without collecting any data on customers.

Also, the story I saw earlier said the temperature had risen to 78 ?F, which is 25.6 ?C. I live near Lake Ontario, where it’s often humid, and would rarely turn on fan at such a low temperature, let alone an air conditioner. Was it unusually humid for Texas? Were these people recent immigrants from way up north who didn’t get a chance to buy summer pyjamas because of COVID or something? That’s not remotely a temperature hot enough to "dehydrate an infant" overnight or otherwise endanger a healthy person. It’s warm enough to maybe cause mild discomfort, and they make it sound like their kid survived the Sahara.

naschsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Also, the story I saw earlier said the temperature had risen to 78 ?F, which is 25.6 ?C.

Outside, or inside? That’s a lovely day for outside weather but having the thermostat set to 78 is pretty warm. Not miserable maybe, but higher than I would like it, especially when trying to sleep.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Inside. I understand that there’s personal variation and that this warmth may not be be ideal?I sleep best around 17 ?C (63 ?F) in warm clothing under a thick blanket?but I wouldn’t expect anyone, let alone a Texan, to be talking of child endangerment. At 25-26 ?C, with humidity under 50%, I’d find it "pretty warm", agreed, when going to bed, and would wear only shorts and use no sheets or blankets. After a few hours of sleep?body temperature usually goes down while sleeping?I’d be more likely to wake up shivering than sweating. I know from experience I’d no longer be able to tolerate the light breeze of a fan.

If someone’s in serious discomfort, they’re probably overweight or otherwise unhealthy, or have yet to acclimatize to the local weather. Babies have been known to cry when not in mortal danger. In other words: this is nothing more than the slight discomfort they agreed to in exchange for reduced power bills. The proportional reaction is to get up, turn the thermostat back down, then phone the power company the next day to back out of the program.

Bruce C.says:

Re: Re:

If the alternative is blackouts or brownouts, this doesn’t seem too horrible. Apart from grid management, there are environmental reasons to reduce peak energy consumption during climate events.

Also, other outlets were reporting that participants in the program also got discounts on their utility rates. If this is correct, it’s more a case of "you get what you pay for".

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

Something something once upon a time wasn’t it popular in come areas for the utility to offer a discount gimmick thing where they could throttle back or suspend central air units to keep the grid alive?
They had very clear rules about how and when it could happen, how long it could last, and gave you a discount.
Then the computers magically were able to rob peter to cool paul, then rob paul to cool peter, everyone was only a bit warmer than they would have liked but… the entire grid didn’t collapse leaving everyone hot & pissed off.

Pity whats his nuts is willing to spend a bunch of money to destroy more natural wonders to build that wall, than to invest in making sure his citizens don’t freeze or burn up.

‘Merica where for imaginary problems the sky is the limit, for actual problems well maybe we could find a dime.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

In old systems, companies would sometimes run separate "peak load shedding" meters for stuff like this. The thermostats are much more practical.

the entire grid didn’t collapse leaving everyone hot & pissed off.

It’s not just about collapse. It takes a lot of overengineering to design a grid that can handle everyone running air conditioning at the same time during the worst heat wave. It’ll be a waste of resources 99% of the time, for which every ratepayer will foot the bill. If enough people get these special thermostats, it can save money for everyone. (Distributed electrical generation/storage is good too?it takes load off the long-distance transmission lines.)

Anonymoussays:

it's 5g

what, haven’t you all figured out that this is because of 5g?!?!
I’m sure I could figure out some kind of almost reasonable explanation about the wavelength preventing the compressor from operating properly due to resonant vibration or something!

Quick, tear down the cell towers or everyone is going to have failing air conditioners!

Anonymoussays:

That sounds like the "programmable comunicating thermostats", which can be jammed.

California was once going to mandate those in all homes

Since they use radio signals to restrict the themostat, they can jammed.

Jamming for that purpose would not violate FCC regulations, since the jamming signals would not go outside your home.

While using a jammer for that purpose might violate state laws, it would not violate FCC rules, as long as the signal did not leave your home.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Burning up spectrum for no reason? jammer guy

Replying to the jammer comment: you sir are incorrect about FCC regulations and rule-making regarding jamming of frequencies. Signal propagation is unpredictable under the best of circumstances and your average Joe ranging even towards a licensed radio technician cannot guarantee emanations stop at your four walls. Jamming of any band is a silly idea and one that could lead to costly consequences.

A better solution would be to not sign up for any load curtailment devices to be installed into your home; you have this right.

A worse idea, but also quite effective, would be to bypass the signal wire going towards your air-conditioning condensers contactor relay so you could trigger it manually. Which would be useful in the case that you did sign up for the load reduction discounts but also had no qualms about committing fraud.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Burning up spectrum for no reason? jammer guy

That depends on the wavelength.

That is why, for example, jamming voice calls in cellular is illegal, but jamming data is not, because 3g and 4g data are on a totally different band

California was going to mandate all themostats in California being "programmable communicating themostats", where everyone would have their themostats controlled by the state whether they liked it or not.

If California had mandates the PCT, jamming the incoming signal to prevent the state from seizing control of your thermostat would not have violated FCC rules, depending on the wavelength they used, though it probably would have violated state laws.

There are some forms of jamming that does not violate FCC rules, but does break state laws. The most notable is jamming ankle bracelets. While jamming an ankle bracelet does not violate FCC rules, it is a crime in several states. While you can be charged with a crime at the state level for jamming ankle braclets or jamming these new DUI ignition interlocks t have use GPS to track you, jamming either one of them would not violate FCC rules as long you only jammed its wireless internet connection, so it could not communicate to the monitoring station. You can can be charged with a crime at the state level for doing so, but jamming the device’s mobile intenet does not violate FCC rules

OGquakersays:

Happiness is a warm gun

Texas is 90% not part of the US grid, embraced "deregulation" 1995, on their own, no begging.
Grid natural gas electric generators run on mined petroleum produced in real time from Eagle Ford, Barnett, the Permian basin et.al. and shipped in pipelines. Hospitals and residences took priority in the beginning, and as the pipelines are taped, heat escapes with the product. Ambient temperatures reduce pressures also: every user is restricted by Boyle’s law https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-1309.pdf Pumping at the gas fields failed as grid electric generators starved, and communication failed because Texas telcos no longer bother to install thousands of pounds of 2volt wetcell backup batteries mandated in the past for POT’s lines. The new 2.6 billion cubic-feet-per-day Natural Gas Texas-to-Mexico pipeline, opened February 2019 may have been too profitable to throttle, prices skyrocketed and who could resist? On the subject of cascading effects, have you heard that Beaufort’s passage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVY8LoM47xI is now open year around for your boating and petroleum pleasure?

DannyBsays:

Energy Independence and Deregulation

Texas got all of the Energy Independence and Deregulation that it wanted. And the consequences that go with it. It saves the poor energy corporations money to under-build facilities or not build to handle foreseeable weather conditions.

It seems like everything is working as intended. What’s the problem?

Annonymousesays:

Well, they didn’t go the brownout path.
Dropping the voltage dims the old style incandescent lights and throttles the electric heating.
Unfortunately motors and modern quality electronics draw more current as the voltage drops. Not an issue for the electronics but those motors will burn out.
That means not only the ac but fans, pumps, as well as your fridge and freezer will die.
Maybe that’s why I have been seeing more of those backup generator systems being advertised.

OGquakersays:

Re: Re: Buy some cute speedos

Re: Back door got ripped off by burglars & would restrict the cats & dogs. If one is careful, one can see street traffic moving between the ship-lap of this 110 year old bungalow. Turned off the gas service (and heaters) when the monthly charges exceeded the usage charges. Winter is a time for bundling or a three-cat night. Grow some hair, Texas; without refrigerators, our grandfathers would have never lived long enough to begat us, right?

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