Denver-area power company takes over thermostats of thousands of customers

DENVER — A Colorado power company locked the smart thermostats of thousands of customers for the first time, citing an “energy emergency.”

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Xcel Energy, which serves 1.3 million electric customers in Colorado, started the AC Rewards program six years ago, KUSA-TV reported. The program allows customers to receive rebates in exchange for allowing Xcel to adjust their thermostats during the summer’s hottest days to ease the electrical grid, according to the television station.

The rewards program has 22,000 members. Customers receive a $100 credit for enrolling in the program and an annual $25 rebate, KMGH-TV reported.

When temperatures in the Denver area climbed into the 90s on Tuesday, residents attempted to lower their thermostats to cool off. Many found that they were unable to do so.

“I mean, it was 90 out, and it was right during the peak period,” Tony Talarico, of Arvada, told KMGH. “It was hot.”

Talarico said he saw a message on his thermostat stating that the temperature was locked.

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

Some Xcel customers complained that their thermostats were also locked, adding that the temperatures in their homes soared as high as 88 degrees.

Emmett Romine, Xcel’s vice president of customer solutions and innovation, stressed that people in the program did so voluntarily.

“Let’s remember that this is something that customers choose to be a part of based on the incentives,” Romine told KMGH.

On its website, Xcel said that “control events” -- when the company makes adjustments to the thermostats of participating customers -- can happen anytime during the summer.

Customers can opt out of control events at any time, according to KUSA. However, there are rare occasions when system emergencies trigger an event that cannot be overridden. Tuesday was one of those days, according to Xcel.

Romine said the energy emergency was due to an unexpected outage in Pueblo, combined with hot weather and extensive air conditioner usage, KMGH reported.

Residents like Talarico were not appeased.

“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 told the television station. “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.”

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