‘Dark winter’ could bring utilities controlling your thermostat

AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz
An Ecobee smart thermostat room sensor is shown in this Nov. 11, 2018, file photo. Smart thermostats, which let consumers adjust their home temperatures remotely using any internet-connected device, are among the most popular smart home technologies.

You thought you turned the thermostat down. In the Texas late summer heat, it keeps getting warmer inside. No matter how much you fiddle with the temperature, you cannot control the climate in your house. When winter comes, those with “smart thermostats” could find themselves without the means to do the same. A combination of smart devices, utility control, unreliable “green” energy, and poor planning will mean a retread of Soviet-style shortages and rationing. 

For those who need the energy at the hottest and coldest times of the year, the effects will be critical. And as difficult as this summer was in Texas, the issues will be far worse in energy-strapped blue states.      .

Indeed, energy failures are already accelerating while the rise of “smart” technology is often another way of giving away manual control. When a device becomes programmable, don’t always expect that it will be you doing the programming. During a heatwave in Colorado two weeks ago, thousands of utility customers were shut out from using their own thermostats. Around 22,000 customers lost the ability to change their thermostats as the temperatures in their homes ticked up to 88 degrees. Ironically, the customers opted into this loss of autonomy through their energy provider, Xcel, in exchange for a $100 sign-up rebate and $25 per year. 

Utilities in the Golden State use similar programs. California has been offering a special rebate for switching over to smart thermostats, and it’s easy to understand why. There are surface-level savings from turning up or down the temperature when you’re not home. However, the control often is not in your hands.

Many of the manipulative energy coercions are “opt-in” right now — but there is little question that in the months and years ahead, they will become “opt-out” or non-negotiable. The energy needed to support California’s Rube Goldberg-esque energy plans simply isn’t there. The state broke new ground in declaring the end of new gasoline car sales in just 13 years. Seventeen states are now considering similar provisions. The transition to electric vehicles is slow to manifest, to say the least, and it shows the most during times like this. During the recent heatwave, California asked residents not to charge their cars because of the strain on the grid following restrictions on electricity generated from nuclear and fossil fuel. California is showing the nation (and the world) that central planning of energy doesn’t work. Much of Western Europe is going through the same revelation.

The road toward climate salvation was paved in good intentions, but took a detour toward consumer hell. Restrictions on fracking and energy pipelines not only mean record-high natural gas prices but a potential shortage this winter in the Northeast. New York pledges 100 percent carbon-free energy within 18 years, but shut down a crucial nuclear plant supplying New York City, sparking a sharp increase in natural gas usage. 

California is attempting to manage its current issues with a combination of “voluntary” energy cuts, keeping open a nuclear plant that the state planned to close, and through old natural gas power plants. These all show a state completely unserious in its preparation for the future. A combination of fossil fuels, nuclear energy and hydroelectricity could solve California’s energy problems, but new construction of these three are nearly banned. The latter two are carbon-free and the last, completely renewable. But for residents suffering in extreme temperatures, California politicians have one message: no dice. 

Such issues may manifest themselves worst in blue states, but the faulty transition toward wind and solar affects much of the country. As Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas brags, windmill capacity can generate more than 20 percent of the state’s electricity. Sounds great — until you get into the details. During this year’s heatwave, low winds meant that the windmills generated a measly 8 percent of the state’s potential electricity. And during a 2021 ice storm, frozen mills played a significant role in the state’s power grid failing; this tragically resulted in 246 deaths.

When well-meaning policy meets the laws of economics, the latter always wins. Indeed, the worst of the effects soon will be on display in Europe, as well. Nations across the continent are putting in place a type of rationing to anticipate this coming winter. Restrictions on energy use as a result of decades of chasing green-energy dreams has shown the continent’s tremendous folly. Listening to Vladimir Putin and closing down nuclear power plants, while simultaneously banning fracking, put Europe in the position that much of the U.S. soon could be in.

The failures of central control of energy policy will accelerate the control of corporations and states over Americans’ energy sources. Meanwhile, high energy prices and shortages won’t be a significant burden on the wealthy. Need to buy an electric car? Electricity prices double in a place with perfect weather? So be it. But for the working and middle classes who face blistering heat during the summer and below-zero temps during the winter, this isn’t some academic exercise. A utility or the state controlling your kids’ bedroom temperature is a reality many families likely will simply have to accept soon.

Many residents have unknowingly given up personal freedom in exchange for promises of stability and security. Trusting career politicians and bureaucrats to understand the creation and distribution of gigawatts of electricity will go down as one of the most significant disasters of 21st century policy. Good intentions got us here but won’t heat our homes when the ground is frozen.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is an author whose latest book is “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.

Tags carbon-free energy energy shortages green energy Rationing smart thermostat
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