Forfeiting Control Over Your Air Conditioner

Megan Charles - Author

Nov. 7 2016, Updated 4:44 a.m. ET

Imagine having little to no control over your own home’s thermostat – leaving you to sweat out the hottest part of the day because you’ve forfeited control to the power company, who, at will, can remotely turn on or off your settings.

And remind yourself, you signed up for this, granting them permission to dictate the climate of your sanctuary.

The majority of people don’t want to suffer through the sweltering part of the summer, and the elderly and infirmed are especially vulnerable to heat stroke, but energy providers have been mandated to find effective ways to cut costs and consumption.

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Therefore, several communities across the US have adopted power saving programs meant to mediate energy use. In exchange for enrolling and allowing power companies control over their AC, customers are given gift cards and small discounts.

However, participants have shared resounding disapproval with how companies have executed these types of programs.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) suspended their Met-Ed program, pending a cost/benefit analysis study which should determine the actual effectiveness and impact.

Met-Ed, part of the EasyGreen energy conservation movement, had been established initially as part of the Pennsylvania Act 129 – requiring all energy distribution companies to reduce energy and consumption. Thus they implemented the measure in hopes it would do just that.

Customers within their service territory enrolled in the program that allowed PUC to remote control their air conditioners. Whenever the demand for power peaked, typically between 12 to 6 pm, Met-Ed would temporarily disable the device.

Last year, the program worked as intended, but to the dissatisfaction of many customers, including those enrolled in the E-Power Peak Saver/Met-Ed program within the nearby service area of PPL, reports Lehigh Valley’s The Morning Call.

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The first day the program ran last June, when temperatures peaked around 95 degrees, PPL received over 1,000 complaints from participants regarding disabled air conditioning.

Almost immediately, 750 customers dropped out of the Peak Saver program as a result.

One irate customer, Nora Whitesell, of Forks, said she had been told by Met-Ed that her air conditioning wouldn’t be off for more than 20 or 25 minutes at a time – as the unit is supposed to run in brief cycles – but on the first day was shut down for nearly six hours.

The temperature inside her home rose to 87 degrees and she feared for her elderly mother’s health. “Six hours is unacceptable,” Whitesell asserted, wasting $80 on a service technician to check her unit.

Other customers made similar arguments, finding the program counterproductive and ineffective. Herb Gifford of North Whitehall and Bill Keller of Moore Township both indicated their air didn’t come back on until after 10 pm that first day.

Gifford said, “When it’s off for hours, then it takes my unit hours to cool it down again. I’m probably using more electricity than if I wasn’t using this program.”

Thousands of customers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who’ve voluntarily enrolled in the PNM Power Saver program – which too installs a regulating device onto the AC unit, allowing PNM full control during peak usage times – have also expressed frustration and concern.

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Valerie Regensberg, who recently un-enrolled, cited her reasons for doing so. “It came to be where it was getting too hot in the house and it was at dangerous levels. The comparable of sitting in your hot car with the windows rolled up.”

Would you sign up for one of these programs if one was available in your area? Do you think it would be worth trying or do you think ultimately you’d spend more in energy costs re-cooling your home?

If you are looking to reduce energy consumption/waste, experts suggest conducting an energy audit – essentially making sure AC/furnace units are properly maintained, invest in a programmable (by you) thermostat, and make sure windows and doors are properly insulated.

Consider turning off the AC and opening a window on days that are comfortable – with the consideration that often times the air circulating inside a house can be more polluted than the air outside.

[Image via Shutterstock]


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