The California Energy Commission is planning to allow utilities to commandeer thermostats and lighting in new buildings to save energy when electricity costs rise with demand. The new devices\u2014discussed at commission workshops on February 22 and 23 and late last week\u2014likely will be required under updated building energy efficiency standards beginning in 2008. "We're trying to find an alternative to building new power plants," said John McHugh, HMG consultant, who has examined the feasibility of programmable communicating thermostats. Reducing peak demand lowers utility bills but also eases transmission congestion. "So, we're talking about reliability and transmission capacity," he said. The devices\u2014which would cost just a few dollars more than those already used\u2014would receive radio signals broadcast by utilities. Those broadcasts would set the temperature of the thermostats up by four degrees on the hottest days of the year. Customers also could allow utilities to increase the temperature setting of the so called programmable communicating thermostats when electricity is priced above what they want to pay. Communicating thermostats cost about $60 more than today's programmable thermostats, which allow building occupants to reduce energy use themselves, but remain out of reach of utilities. The state's investor-owned utilities support the CEC in its plan to require the new thermostats. They told the commission in joint comments it "could be compatible with and leverage existing and future advanced metering infrastructure investment." The devices will be important to "grid reliability, price response, and utility economic dispatch," they wrote February 16. The CEC also is planning to require builders to install load shedding lighting ballasts, which would cut the energy used in light bulbs by about a third. Similar to the thermostats, the lighting ballasts would receive broadcast signals from utilities during periods of peak demand to trim energy use. The devices cost about $9 more to buy and install than today's lighting ballasts according to CEC. "We're talking about an integrated system," said Martyn Dodd, EnergySoft consultant. "It's completely plug n' play." The remotely controlled thermostats and ballasts\u2014which building occupants could not override\u2014likely will be one of a series of new devices and measures the state requires for new buildings beginning in 2008. The standards will increase efficiency requirements for residential windows, outdoor lighting, stairwell lighting, cools roofs, non-residential insulation, and potentially trigger new requirements when building and home owners renovate or build additions, said Mazi Shirakh, CEC senior mechanical engineer and technical lead for the 2008 standards. The commission will continue to hold workshops on the various measures to be included in the revised standards. It will draft actual regulatory language in the second half of this year. After taking comments, the agency's staff plans to bring the new requirements to the commission for approval in the middle of 2007. The CEC then plans to develop software and manuals to help architects and contractors follow the new standards before they take effect in November of 2008.