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Xcel took over thermostats of thousands of customers for the first time

Anyone can sign up for the company's smart thermostat rewards program, when Xcel can make adjustments in an energy emergency.

For the first time ever, Xcel Energy locked the smart thermostats of thousands of Colorado customers on Tuesday because of what it called an energy emergency.

Xcel started a program six years ago, called the AC Rewards program, in which customers get rebates in exchange for allowing Xcel to adjust their thermostat on the hottest summer days to ease strain on the electrical grid. Participating customers need to sign up for the program, and about 22,200 have done that in Colorado.

Tuesday was the first time that Xcel locked those thermostats, a company spokesperson said.

The grid experienced an energy emergency that day, due to high temperatures and a unit at a power plant that went offline. The company was not selling energy out of state, Xcel said.

Xcel customers who have certain types of smart thermostats can opt into the AC Rewards Program. They get a onetime $100 enrollment bill credit and $25 every year they participate in the program.

“We understand the need to keep cool on hot summer days and work hard to provide our customers with the energy they rely on," Xcel said in a statement provided to 9NEWS. "Our customers have a choice to participate in this voluntary program that helps them manage energy demands while receiving cash for their involvement."

Xcel says on its website that "control events" – when Xcel makes adjustments to the thermostats of participating customers – can happen at anytime during the summer.

Customers can opt out of control events at any time, though on rare occasions, system emergencies can trigger an event that can't be overridden. Tuesday was one of those times when participating customers could not opt-out, Xcel said.

The AC Rewards program has a total of 45,600 customers in Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In Colorado, the program has 22,190 participants, out of 1.5 million total Xcel Energy customers.

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