Charlton Heston’s legacy will surely rest on his iconic performance as Moses in The Ten Commandments and his unwavering support of the Second Amendment. I had the privilege of watching a classic Heston performance at the 2000 National Rifle Association convention in Charlotte, N.C., when he raised a handmade Brooks flintlock above his head and warned then-presidential candidate Al Gore that he could remove it only “from my cold, dead hands.”

Focusing only on these two images misses the real measure of the man. Heston walked a picket line in front of a whites-only restaurant in 1961 in Oklahoma City to repeal “Jim Crow” discriminatory laws; he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Washington in 1963 to promote civil rights; and he served as a gunner on bombers during WWII. No one can deny that Heston was a man of strong principles who used his star power to focus the public’s attention on issues he considered vital to the nation.

What about the Fourth Amendment?

Issues involving individual rights are still in the news, but many now concern technology’s impact on personal privacy. The most recent flap was over Google’s addition of 360-degree views to its online street maps, because some photos show in great detail property clearly marked private.

Privacy rights will also have to be considered by government programs designed to curb peak power consumption. For example, the advent of smart transmission and distribution grids (p. 42) does more than confirm that utilities are interested in adopting new technology. It also raises questions about how far beyond the home meter regulators should reach in the name of energy efficiency.

Advanced “smart” meters and computer-controlled appliances have the potential to better match demand to supply without human interaction (see p. 64). The key question is this: Whose finger should be adjusting the thermostat? Some state regulators began with what Contributing Editor Ken Maize calls the “nanny-state approach to energy conservation: the utility knows best.” In my opinion, this license is a fundamental intrusion into our personal privacy rights that should be resisted. To paraphrase Heston, “You’ll have to pry my toasty warm fingers from my thermostat this winter.”

California yields to privacy

An early victory went to supporters of privacy this January when the California Energy Commission (CEC) retreated from plans to include programmable communicating thermostats (PCTs) in its proposed 2008 energy-efficiency standards for buildings. Had PCTs been left in, new buildings would have been required to have a data connection to let utilities control at least the air conditioning and heating system during power emergencies. Industrial and commercial users would have gotten a price break for selecting a rate plan that allows utilities to shed their load during grid emergencies. The CEC never entertained similar cost breaks for homeowners, at least in public.

The public outcry was predictable to everyone except CEC regulators who proposed the scheme. In response, the CEC blinked—twice. It first revised the rule to enable customers to override utility control of the PCTs, which were still required. Then, as the blowback continued, the CEC announced that it was removing PCTs from this year’s proposed building-efficiency standards. CEC spokeswoman Claudia Chandler quickly made the commission’s mea culpas, noting that in the future the commission will work with utilities to craft voluntary programs that customers could opt into.

I trust that the CEC and other regulators now understand the unwritten 11th Commandment of the utility industry: Tell me the time-based cost of energy and I’ll make the consumption decisions. It’s none of your business how much, when, and for what purpose I use the power I purchase. I think Charlton Heston would agree.

Welcome our new editors!

I’m pleased to announce that POWER has added two experienced members to our editorial staff as we continue expanding our in-depth coverage of the worldwide power generation industry.

Senior Editor Angela Neville has been covering the environmental issues of the energy and other industrial sectors since 1995. She served as the editorial director of the magazines Environmental Protection and Water & Wastewater News from 1995 through 2007. Angela’s columns on environmental law topics earned her one national award and four regional awards for editorial excellence from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. She has bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and English and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Angela’s first contribution to POWER is an inside look at Xcel Energy’s plans to build the first smart grid in Boulder, Colo.

Staff Writer Sonal Patel will be working on several aspects of print and online content delivery for POWER, COAL POWER, and POWERnews, as well as on a variety of other POWER-branded efforts. She has worked as a technical writer, as a freelance news and feature writer for British Petroleum, and as the editor of an avant-garde South Asian women’s magazine/ webzine. Sonal jumped right into her new position with her article on ocean power in this issue.