News and notes from Reston (tm).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hot Enough For Ya? Try some tepid Lake Anne water

You know, when the mercury starts inching towards the 100-degree mark, the first thing that comes to mind is a nice spot in the shade, maybe a tall glass of lemonade, and some refreshing water pumped in from Lake Anne to cool the house. You see, folks around Lake Anne don't cotton to old-school things like "air conditioning." This is a New Town (tm), after all, and we have new ways of doing things. Like, instead of using air conditioners, whose unsightliness and lack of earth-toned color options detract from the fact they actually work, Reston built a system that takes water from Lake Anne, chills it and then runs it through a series of tubes to cool people's homes. Sounds great, except when there's no rain and Lake Anne gets emptier and more tepid than usual:

Donna Shaffer said she does not want a repeat of the air-conditioning issues she faced last summer when drought conditions caused her air conditioner to stop cooling her Lake Anne townhouse. So she said she started a petition to allow her and her neighbors to opt out of the Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning system that cools their homes in the summer.

Shaffer said some residents like the RELAC system, which uses chilled water from Lake Anne to cool homes, but many people have found that the system does not send enough cold air to their homes. "When the temperature gets about 85 degrees and it gets humid out, the system just doesn't work," she said.
Luckily, that almost never happens in the DC area in summertime. But what of the cost savings, since you're not using electricity and Freon, and whatnot?
Shaffer also said the RELAC system is more expensive than other air-conditioning systems. She said she pays about $170 for RELAC and $150 for her electric bill, but she only paid about $130 for her summer energy bills at her last home, which was comparable in size to her home in Lake Anne.

Currently residents are only allowed to get off RELAC for health reasons and they must provide significant medical documentation of their condition, according to Milton Matthews, CEO of Reston Association. Shaffer is petitioning to allow residents to hold a referendum to vote on whether they would like opt out of the system without providing that documentation. She needs at least 70 signatures, about 20 percent of the system's eligible voters, before RA will consider scheduling a referendum, Matthews said.

Richard Speier fronted a similar referendum in 2005, and although that referendum failed, Shaffer said they might have a better chance this year because there are more people worried about the RELAC system. "It doesn't look like a drought this summer, but it could happen, and people have become more dissatisfied because of what happened last summer," Shaffer said, referring to last summer's drought which caused lake levels to drop and affected the RELAC system.
Well, I'm sure some Valuable Lessons were learned after last year's drought, right?
Greg Odell, division manager for Aqua Virginia, said last year's drought caused them to have "a tough year," but the company has since developed a plan to deal with droughts, which includes pumping water from deeper portions of the lake.
Good plan! Meanwhile, how is the RA handling the -- ahem! -- heat?
"My contention is that we're being forced to be on this system," Shaffer said, explaining that RA officials have said to her that their hands are tied in the matter. "They don't seem to be willing to do anything other than follow the governing documents and have a referendum and leave it up to the residents to get enough votes," Shaffer said.
How crass and uncaring -- actually not overstepping their bounds and all.

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