By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
According to Rosenfeld, the two-way PCT devices would allow Californians to get updated information as to when expensive peak usage times are — or even ask their utility company to remotely adjust a thermostat when they're not home — and thus keep their usage within the congestion-pricing range they'd agreed to.
But in their push for an evolving technology that can contribute to energy efficiency, Rosenfeld and the commission staff, like accomplished scientists isolated in a lab, clearly didn't understand the visceral blow-back citizens feel about government entering their homes.
One person who does understand it is the chairman of the California State Assembly's Utilities and Commerce Committee. "I don't believe the government or businesses should be able to go into people's homes en masse," says 40th District Assembly Member Lloyd Levine of Van Nuys, regardless of whether the programs are voluntary or mandatory. (Levine has experienced the heat government regulations can draw. When he recently sought to ban the incandescent light bulb, his proposal drew a harsh response throughout the state.)
He was concerned that the PCT regulation could set back the energy-efficiency movement by damaging public support, and on January 14 suggested to the commission chair that the concept be pulled.
Another factor that made the Democrat gun-shy was how it would be implemented. Levine says that while it's the duty of the California Energy Commission to put forth regulations for constructing energy-efficient homes and other buildings, "They don't do programs." Rather, he explains, the execution of the commission's policies is worked out later, between the state Public Utilities Commission and the utilities themselves. The PCT regulation "put the cart before the horse."
In addition, Levine says that intrusive thermostats add little bang for the buck because they would be included only in new homes, which are already "the most energy-efficient construction." He argues that a better approach would be to work with apartment owners to retrofit thousands of energy-wasting and poorly insulated structures built between 10 and 30 years ago.
Though Chandler argues that "When you have a huge subdivision going into the San Fernando Valley, that could help," the commission's staff conceded that the effort would have affected only 1 percent of housing stock annually — the amount that's new each year.
Pugh, the Santa Monica city planning commissioner, sees the energy commission's misstep as "a short-term crisis solution to a long-term issue." He supports congestion-pricing programs, but without utility control of an individual's thermostat.
Says Pugh, "We need more distributed energy generation: voltaics, house wind generators, geothermal heat. We need to be living sustainably, within our means, but... regeneratively... Now, are all of these fiscally viable at the moment? Maybe not, but that's what we've got to be working towards. That way, we won't need to live in the dark future of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or 1984."
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