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Cheakamus residents concerned over district energy system

Energy costs higher than anticipated, according to posts



Some residents of Cheakamus Crossing are taking to Facebook to express their dissatisfaction with the cost and effectiveness of the neighbourhood District Energy System (DES), a closed system that captures waste heat from the sewage treatment plant and pumps it into homes, assisting with ambient heating and providing hot water for household uses.

The system was expected to reduce power consumption and save residents money but some residents are saying that the combined cost of the DES and hydro so far doesn't show any savings.

Seb Fremont, who is on the strata council, says residents knew about the DES charges when they moved in, but are frustrated because they haven't seen a dramatic reduction in power costs compared to their previous homes.

"We bought these homes and were told that we'd save nearly 30 per cent on hydro because of the DES system, which hasn't quite happened yet. At least, it doesn't feel that way," he said.

The Cheakamus Crossing Facebook page is full of complaints.

"I checked the pipes coming in for the heating and they are very cold," wrote one resident. "Why am I paying the muni for cold water when I can get it from the same pipe as the tap water. Our hydro bill was pretty high as well."

Another resident wrote, "The best I can tell I am getting no benefit to being hooked up to the DES system as the temperature of the water coming from the system is exactly the same temperature of my tap water... What gives? I encourage you all to check the temperature of the pipe that is on the far left hand side of the pump and tell me... what you find."

And another: "I have a friend who pays less in Spring Creek for a bigger place - and we are supposed to be all 'green' and energy efficient."

Some residents have been doing their own tests and believe that the reason their hydro bills have been so high is that homes require pumps to circulate the heated fluid from the DES. However, one resident discovered that their first hydro bill was higher than expected because it reflected the entire month of October, when they moved in on Oct. 15.

Aside from the lack of savings, there have been other hiccoughs associated with the system. On Jan. 28, the recirculation pumps in the District Energy System shut down temporarily, requiring the municipality to reset the system. If that system shuts down for over four minutes, the municipality warned, the residents' heat pumps may shut down as well, which could require owners to reset the system.

Pique contacted the Resort Municipality of Whistler to ask how the system was performing and whether the DES is being benchmarked, but did not receive a response at press time. However, Pique was referred to information on the municipal website that explains how residents are billed.

According to the municipality, the annual operating fees for the system are shared out over the total square footage of buildings in Cheakamus Crossing. To determine rates, the municipality divided the estimated operating cost - $195,000 per year, over a total floor area of 42,600 square metres. That works out to $4.58 per square metre, or 42.5 cents per square foot annually. Residents are billed quarterly.

The municipality estimated the cost of running the system - DES plus the heat pump - at $1,096 per year for a typical townhouse, with $622.88 in DES fees and $473.28 in electrical costs.

One resident on Facebook suggested that the true number is actually higher, roughly $4 per day for the hydro alone.

It's been a difficult transition for Cheakamus Crossing residents, with move-in dates being pushed back six weeks or more for some complexes. As well, many residents have been battling the municipality over the continued operation of an asphalt plant and quarry adjacent to the housing complex.