Word of caution

Most of you are probably aware of arrangements like the following, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded occasionally. Always read the fine print!

Tuesday in Denver the temperature rose into the 90s and some 22,000 Xcel Energy customers suddenly found they could not adjust their smart thermostats to stay cool. The power company had taken over and locked them out of their own thermostats!

It was an arrangement the customers had agreed to when they opted into an “AC Rewards Program” that gave them an immediate $100 credit and an annual $25 savings. But few realized that it meant whenever Xcel wanted or needed to, it could lock them out of their thermostats and allow temperatures in their homes to rise into the 80s. Some customers reported in-home temperatures as high as 88 degrees.

Reportedly it was done to offset a power failure in Pueblo, Colo., more than 100 miles south of Denver.

When those “savings” were offered to me a few years ago, I quickly and firmly declined. I’d never forgotten many years ago when my parents in Oklahoma City were offered a savings device for their air conditioner. As it turned out, the device would shut off their a/c for 15 minutes every hour. That’s more than enough time for the temperature in the home to rise considerably in the course of a day.

Neither of these “savings” plans made it clear that a/c might be disabled on particularly hot days. And I would guess those most likely to opt in to such savings plans would be retirees on fixed incomes trying to pinch a few pennies — people whose ages make them more vulnerable to temperature extremes.

So a word of warning if you’ve yet to encounter such offerings from your power company. Make sure you understand exactly what might happen before you accept such “savings.”

10 thoughts on “Word of caution

    1. That’s what I had until my daughter-in-law gave me a new Nest thermostat, and even installed it herself (while I watched with extreme trepidation). Best gift I’ve ever received!! I tend to adjust the temp a lot, and being able to do it from my phone is a HUGE convenience.

  1. I can foresee the smart thermostat system becoming mandatory under law, especially in places like Phoenix. We went there on a summer vacation years ago and it was so hot, in the teens, we could hardly catch a breath. Better to be uncomfortable in a brown-out than dead in a complete failure. I’m not aware that our electric company has offered such a program, but maybe they have. I installed a programmable one and like it fine. Anyway, thanks for the heads-up Susan.

    1. Smart thermostats are a huge convenience (mine is like the one pictured), and making them mandatory is no problem. Just don’t opt for any program that lets your power company or any outsider take control of them.

      I’ve never been to Phoenix and I don’t see how anyone can live there, a/c or not. Maybe winter snowbirds, but who wants to pull up stakes twice a year?

  2. Our utility had a similar offer to businesses… some savings upfront for agreeing to curtail their energy use during certain conditions. They signed up and enjoyed the savings for several years without having to adjust their use due to mild temps. Then, surprise! They were asked to do what they had promised to do. Always good to read the small print… but, realistically, I can’t imagine they didn’t know; they weren’t given the upfront savings because the utility was feeling generous.

    1. I am at least grateful that we don’t have huge outages like they had in Texas (knock wood!). But I’m not going to willingly give up my control. And I’d bet a lot of those people whose a/c was cut off have resigned from that savings plan they signed up for.

      1. Yep, easy to sign up when the temps are cool. But, I think there should be a timeframe. If you reaped the benefits while the grid wasn’t being taxed, you are obligated to fulfil your promise. The utilities don’t have these programs to be mean, they are trying to manage a very fragile grid system. If everyone thinks, “It’s just me, and if I run my AC all day, it won’t make a difference” than we are toast…literally.

        1. I appreciate what it does to help the grid system. I just think people need to be sure they understand what they are signing up for, and perhaps the utility companies need to be a bit more forthright about what’s involved and what could happen. Personally, I don’t tolerate heat well at all and really depend on my a/c.

... and that's my two cents