Bringing Together Conservative Voices

Energy company locks smart thermostats at high A/C temp on sweltering summer afternoon — and company defends decision

Utility company Xcel Energy locked out tens of thousands of Colorado residents from changing the temperature on their thermostats Tuesday, all in the name of conserving energy.

Wait, what?

Smart home technology, such as digital thermostats, may be trendy and convenient, but apparently it also gives those who can access your technology the ability to control it without your knowledge.

The high temperature in Denver nearly broke 90F on Tuesday. Naturally, residents wanted to crank up their air conditioning for respite from the sweltering heat.

But more than 20,000 people quickly learned they didn’t have the ability to turn down their thermostats because their utility company remotely locked their A/C temperature at nearly 80 degrees.

Image source: KMGH-TV screenshot

Resident Tony Talarico told KMGH-TV that when he went to his thermostat, he saw a message explaining it had been locked due to an “energy emergency.”

“Normally, when we see a message like that, we’re able to override it,” Talarico explained. “In this case, we weren’t. So, our thermostat was locked in at 78 or 79.”

That’s right. Xcel customers with smart thermostats were prohibited from controlling their own A/C for hours on Tuesday. The company, in fact, confirmed that 22,000 customers who joined the company’s AC Rewards program were locked out from controlling their thermostats.

The program allows the utility company to remotely control thermostats for a “convenient, energy-saving lifestyle with long-term benefits.”

By participating in AC Rewards, adjustments are made to your smart thermostat during the hottest summer days. When the demand for electricity is the highest, you’ll help us manage these peaks and ease the strain on the electrical grid. You’ll be cut back on the time your central air works to cool your home with control events.

Control events may occur anytime during the cooling season. You’ll have the ability to opt out of control events at any time and receive optional notifications of control events, either from your thermostat, mobile device, or web app. On rare occasions, system emergencies may cause a control event that cannot be overridden.

Xcel incentivizes the program by offering customers a one-time enrollment credit of $100 and an annual credit of $25 for joining the program.

Emmett Romine, vice president of customer solutions and innovation, defended his company locking thermostats by noting the program is voluntary.

“It’s a voluntary program. Let’s remember that this is something that customers choose to be a part of based on the incentives,” Romine told KMGH. “It helps everybody for people to participate in these programs. It is a bit uncomfortable for a short period of time, but it’s very, very helpful.”

The reason for the “energy emergency,” Romine told the news outlet, was an unexpected outage in a nearby city, hot weather, and high A/C usage.