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Energy company takes over 22,000 homes; locks smart thermostats for ‘energy emergency’

A photo of a digitally networked thermostat in a residential unit at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Aug. 9, 2021. (Senior Airman Hannah Bean/U.S. Air Force)
September 01, 2022

A Colorado utility company locked thousands of residents out of their home thermostats on Tuesday due to an “energy emergency” as temperatures in the mountain region hit 90 degrees.

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Xcel Energy confirmed to Contact Denver7 that it locked 22,000 customers out of their smart thermostats for hours, insisting that the move was part of a voluntary rewards program. Customers were notified about the lockout via a message displayed on their thermostats.

“It’s a voluntary program. Let’s remember that this is something that customers choose to be a part of based on the incentives,” said Emmett Romine, Xcel’s vice president of customer solutions and innovation.

Customers who sign up for the program receive a $100 credit and another $25 annually, but they also agree to relinquish some control as part of an effort to save energy and money. 

“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,” said Romine.

Tony Talarico said he was among the customers locked out of their thermostats during the sweltering heat wave. 

“I mean, it was 90 out, and it was right during the peak period,” Talarico said. “It was hot.”

When he went to adjust the thermostat, he saw a message that stated it was locked due to an “energy emergency.”

“Normally, when we see a message like that, we’re able to override it,” Talarico said. “In this case, we weren’t. So, our thermostat was locked in at 78 or 79.”

Romine said this is the first time customers have been locked out of their thermostats since the program was started six years ago. 

Talarico said he was unaware that the program allowed Xcel to take over his thermostat.

“To me, an emergency means there is, you know, life, limb, or, you know, some other danger out there — some, you know, massive wildfires,” Talarico said. “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.”