Thursday, January 10, 2008

John Galt Meets Reddy Kilowatt

The American Thinker recounts a proposal to allow the state to control whether you freeze or bake:

What should be controversial in the proposed revisions to Title 24 is the requirement for what is called a "programmable communicating thermostat" or PCT. Every new home and every change to existing homes' central heating and air conditioning systems will required to be fitted with a PCT beginning next year following the issuance of the revision. Each PCT will be fitted with a "non-removable " FM receiver that will allow the power authorities to increase your air conditioning temperature setpoint or decrease your heater temperature setpoint to any value they chose. During "price events" those changes are limited to +/- four degrees F and you would be able to manually override the changes. During "emergency events" the new setpoints can be whatever the power authority desires and you would not be able to alter them.

In other words, the temperature of your home will no longer be yours to control. Your desires and needs can and will be overridden by the state of California through its public and private utility organizations. All this is for the common good, of course.

Electricity generation in California is plagued by bad incentives. During the notorious power crisis a few years back, it turned out that while electricity costs to utilities that needed to buy it from elsewhere because of high demand could become very expensive, passing those costs on to users through higher prices (perhaps even allowing prices to vary by the minute) was not, due to extensive consumer-price regulation. This is a recipe for a problem, and California has one. The proper solution is to make users of electricity pay more of the consequences of their choices for others through the price system. The proposed solution, unsurprisingly, is to curse the fact that people respond to incentives and to react by increasing the extent to which the state controls people’s lives. I mean, really – the government can, merely by declaring an “emergency,” control the temperature in your home?

I suspect that for now this proposal will go nowhere – there is still sufficient common sense dispersed among the people of California for that. But that authorities now feel comfortable proposing such a thing suggests to me that some sort of unsettling bridge has now been crossed in the Golden State.

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