Thousands of Colorado residents were unable to change the temperatures in their own homes on Tuesday when a smart thermostat company locked its devices at a balmy 78 degrees Fahrenheit due to a local “energy emergency.”
Xcel Energy offers a one-time $100 bill credit and a $25 annual incentive for Colorado customers who enroll in a program that lets the utility company “ease the strain on the electrical grid” during the “hottest summer days.” When temperatures climbed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Pueblo, Colorado, roughly 22,000 customers who opted into the initiative were locked out of their temperature controls, Xcel confirmed to ABC 7 Denver.
“It’s a voluntary program. Let’s remember that this is something that customers choose to be a part of based on the incentives,” Xcel vice president of customer solutions Emmett Romine told the outlet. “So, 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.”
Romine added that this week’s high temperatures in Colorado represented the first time in the program’s six-year history that users were unable to override their thermostats. Residents, however, were disturbed by the move from Xcel.
“To me, an emergency means there is, you know, life, limb, or, you know, some other danger out there — some, you know, massive wildfires,” one customer told ABC 7 Denver. “Even if it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon situation, it just doesn’t sit right with us to not be able to control our own thermostat in our house.”
The western United States is facing a “prolonged and possibly record heat wave” that could lead to temperatures as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit, according to an announcement from the National Weather Service. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Fire Department disclosed on Wednesday that a wildfire ranging over 5,000 acres and threatening 550 structures broke out near the city.
The California Independent System Operator advised residents on Wednesday and Thursday to set their thermostats at 78 degrees or higher, refrain from using large appliances, and avoid charging electric vehicles during peak hours. The request follows new regulatory standards from the California Air Resources Board requiring 35% of new vehicles to produce zero emissions by 2026 — a benchmark that will rise to 68% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. The legislatures of Massachusetts, Washington, and Virginia have passed laws binding their states to standards approved by the entity.
Though many Democratic officials have encouraged electric car adoption, charging the vehicles requires twice as much annual energy use as powering a refrigerator, according to data from the Department of Energy. Researchers from Cornell University’s College of Engineering have warned that a rapid transition to electric vehicles will overwhelm the nation’s grids, notwithstanding robust upgrades.
“Today, most people charge their electric cars when they come home in the evening — when electricity demand is typically at its peak,” the researchers said. “If left unmanaged, the power demanded from many electric vehicles charging simultaneously in the evening will amplify existing peak loads, potentially outstripping the grid’s current capacity to meet demand.”
California experienced a round of blackouts during last year’s Labor Day weekend. The state asked residents to decrease power consumption at the time as grid operators predicted “an increase in electricity demand, primarily from air conditioning use” related to extreme temperatures.