The RMOW is set to launch a study next month that will see how Cheakamus Crossing's beleaguered District Energy System (DES) stacks up against a more conventional electric heating system.
The six-month study will assess how Whistler's DES heats residents' homes compared to the amount of electricity it consumes, relative to standard electric baseboards. A consultant hired by the municipality will select volunteers to participate after a site visit. The RMOW said there's been "a good response" so far, with representation from most complexes in the neighbourhood. The study will cost $40,000.
Before it was installed ahead of the 2010 Olympics, the DES was touted as an innovative heating system that would dramatically reduce energy costs. The project has since lost some of its lustre for many Cheakamus residents, some of whom have racked up thousands of dollars in repair costs.
"The energy study is essential because some claims were made from Day 1 that we were going to save 80 per cent on energy costs. Well, what's that based on?" said David MacPhail, Cheakamus resident and former RMOW building inspections manager, who has studied the DES closely. "If you look at the whole heat pump thing, it kind of got oversold."
In a poll of 85 Cheakamus residents from earlier this year, 80 per cent said they weren't satisfied with the DES, and 25 per cent said they have spent between $1,000 and $2,000 in repairs.
MacPhail feels the municipal study should expand its scope to focus on more than just energy usage.
"To do a reasonable energy study, you would have to do a comprehensive study to find out what costs people have incurred to date," he said. "Well, some have incurred quite a bit of costs — $10,000 for some."
Factoring in those costs, MacPhail believes an energy-efficient electrical heating system might be the better option in the long run.
"What is the maintenance cost (of an electric heating system) over 20 years? Zero," he said. "The chance of an electric baseboard failing are almost nil. There are no moving parts. And if one does fail, you go to Home Hardware or Rona and pay $50 or $60."
In an effort to get to the root of the issue, the Whistler Development Corporation (WDC) is also conducting a mechanical engineering study of the DES in 20 homes. Results are expected in the New Year.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said it's too early to say what will be done if the studies show there are major issues with the DES.
"We have to see what the study says, not just this one but we're interesting in seeing what WDC comes up with from their mechanical engineering review," she said. "Once we have these various results in, then we'll decide what, if anything, we ought to do."
The RMOW's energy study is the first of several initiatives this winter aimed at helping Cheakamus residents better understand their heating system, including a homeowner FAQ and troubleshooting guide and a webpage, whistler.ca/DES, that will be updated in 2016 with reference documents, YouTube videos explaining the system, and a list of recommended service providers.