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TXU offers internet-controllable thermostat to consumers

TXU Energy is offering its residential customers a free thermostat that can be programmed over the Internet, a technology that utility experts say can cut electricity use but also gives TXU limited control of a home’s temperature settings.

Like many programmable thermostats, TXU’s iThermostat allows up to four different temperature settings during the day. The device also can be controlled by a wireless signal sent from a transmitter, installed by TXU along with the thermostat, that communicates over the Internet, TXU said.

That allows the thermostat to be controlled remotely from any computer connected to the Internet. TXU said it intends to use that capability to temporarily turn off heating and cooling systems during periods of peak demand, although the customer can override the company’s control if desired.

Reducing demand could reduce the load on the electrical grid. It also could help TXU avoid buying electricity in the increasingly expensive Texas wholesale market whenever its customers use more power than projected, but spokeswoman Sophia Stoller said that is not the company’s aim.

“The reason we’re doing it is we want to retain and attract new customers,” and offering technology that allows customers to better control their electricity demand is one way to do that, Stoller said. There is no charge for the thermostat, but customers must enroll in TXU’s Energy Conservation program and remain a TXU customer for at least two years.

Using the system, consumers could, for example, turn down the air conditioning from their offices before heading home for work.

Austin Energy, the municipal power service in the state’s capital, has installed more than 70,000 similar thermostats since 2000, said Carlos Cordova, a spokesman.

Those devices allow the utility to turn off customers’ air conditioners and electric heaters for up to 10 minutes out of each half-hour, which has allowed Austin Energy to reduce total demand by 25 megawatts on average and by up to 45 megawatts.

Cordova said fewer than 30 customers have canceled the service after trying it. He said the utility was employing the service Wednesday and uses it about 13 days a year.

Harvey Sachs of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy said California has mandated similar thermostats throughout the state as a means of limiting electricity demand. While the thermostats represent “a multi-billion-dollar program,” Sachs said, it ultimately is cheaper than building new power plants.

JIM FUQUAY, 817-390-7552