While harboring a vague unease with big government, I’ve never been one to spout conspiracy theories from under my tinfoil hat. Still, I’m leery of where we seem to be headed. In deference to Orwell’s 1984, I tend to look askance at some of these apps that track our whereabouts, or “services” like OnStar that can start (or stop) our cars from the satellites. Most of the time, though, when I mention what I view as dystopian governmental overreach, my kids just roll their eyes.
And then this happened. The city of Fort Collins, where I live, is magnanimously offering to install a new thermostat in my home, one that I can control from anywhere on the planet. They claim this marvel of modern technology could save me up to ten percent on my heating and cooling costs. Oh, did they mention? It also allows the utility to have its way with my HVAC system. A chipper young woman with a sing-songy voice called from the city the other day, to invite me into this brave new world.
“When you enroll in the program, contractors will professionally install your Peak Partners web-programmable thermostat in your home,” she read from her prepared material, the way you’d read a potty-training book to a 2-year old. “This allows you to change the settings from anywhere you might be, as long as you have internet service.”
“But if I’m not home, why would I want to change the temperature in my house?”
She forged ahead as if I was speaking Elvish. “On selected days in May through September, we’ll automatically cycle the compressors of participating customer’s central air conditioners off and on to help balance the demand for electricity. These are called ‘conservation events.’”
“Wait, so someone else will take control of my environment?”
She still wasn’t going to let me steer her off the script. “For all cycling events, the fan will continue to circulate air, even though the compressor has a reduced operating time. Most participants won’t notice the average one to three degree rise in temperature during a typical conservation event.”
“But I’m already setting my thermostat at 78 degrees in the summer, as recommended by the city. What more do you want?”
She hesitated – that question apparently never came up in training. Maybe I just hadn’t heard her the first time. “On select days in May through September, we’ll automatically cycle the compressors…”
“Yeah, I got that part. I guess I have concerns about, you know, how much this feels like Big Brother. Having the city make my climate decisions for me.”
“But you can override two conservation events per summer through the mobile application,” she said with an air of benevolence.
“Two, huh. How many do they expect?”
“Fort Collins anticipates about 4 events per month, so no more than 20 per summer.”
“And the city overrides me the other 18 times. Will you send flowers or candy afterward?”
Surely appealing to my pocketbook would placate me. “The cost of the new thermostats is 250 dollars, but they are being provided free by the city of Fort Collins, including installation,” she offered, somewhat exasperated that I would balk at this chance to possess such wondrous technology.
“But how much is your freedom worth?” I asked, somewhat exasperated by her inability to smell what The Rock was cooking.
Then she tried the ‘saving the planet’ angle. “It’s for the common good. Participation helps reduce peak energy usage and thereby reduces power plant emissions.”
“I have an electric lawnmower…I’m already reducing emissions.”
Sensing she was losing me, she decided to bail out. “We’ll be glad to send you all the information in an email, so you can review it at your convenience.”
“That’s fine. Send me the information and I’ll take a look.”
“Well, you have to make an appointment for an installation before we can send you that.”
“So you’re asking me to commit to something before I have all the details. What if I decide, after reading the fine print, that I don’t want to participate.”
“You’re free to opt out at any time.”
“Great. How about I opt out now.”
She paused again before spitting out “Have a nice day” as insincerely as anyone has ever uttered the phrase.
Hanging up the phone, I immediately reached for the tinfoil.
Image courtesy of extremetech.com