News and notes from Reston (tm).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Frankie Goes to Richmond: State Hearing on RELAC (Don't Do It) Rate Increase

800px-Reston,_Virginia_-_Lake_Anne_plaza.jpgMembers of several Lake Anne communities served by the awesome jet-age RELAC cooling system testified about a proposed rate increase at a State Corporation Commission hearing last week. Here's an account:

We emphasized that RELAC was liked in principle by most but was highly priced, a 56% increase was unreasonable and service for many was unacceptable. I also mentioned Richard Speir's proposal to cover hot days in April, and to establish standards to measure acceptable service. I also presented Ed Climo's analysis which shows the need for consistent and adequate volume of chilled water flow.

Reston RELAC users were very fortunate to be supported by Fairfax County staff, Steve Sinclair, Chief, Public Utilities Branch and Marilyn McHugh, Assistant County Attorney. They and staff carefully reviewed Aqua's submission and argued for a rate reduction from $185,000 to about $166,000, Based solely on the numbers; not much but something. Also Ms. McHugh cross examined Greg Odell of Aqua for about 2 hours in a low key, systematic, and professional manner bringing out fairly significant weakness of records, poor customer service and a general lack of standards that could be used to show adequate delivery of chilled water with sufficient flow to individual units..

It was an interesting process. My general impression, based on casual talk around the court room, is that Aqua may get an increase but will be encouraged to take steps to improve service.

However, Ms McHugh and Mr Sinclair strongly recommend that as many RELAC users attend the additional hearing on May 3, 2010 at the Fairfax County Government Center [main building]at 700 PM in Coference Room 2 and 3. This is your chance to be heard on RELAC before the body that supervises Aqua Virginia. Please spread the message within your organization and to other effected clusters. We can thank Supervisor Hudgins in pushing to get this second hearing near us. Your participation may help.
Let's just hope May 3 is a cool day.


  1. Is RELAC why Lake Anne businesses have a funky odor in summer?

  2. That and plumbing issues in general that their landlord doesn't feel they need to fix.

  3. Like it or not, a rational argument can NOT be made for restricting an individuals right to choose how one cools their abode. The many cons of RELAC far outweigh the one pro. That pro being the ability to listen to the birds and the bees. However, we live in a high density residential area. Sounds such as airplanes, automobiles, people and air conditioning units come with the territory. If you do not like that you live in a high density residential area you are free to move to the mountains and enjoy your peace and quite. Virginia has wonderful mountains where your intellect (assuming you support the birds and bees argument) will fit in well with the hillbilly folk. RELAC does not provide adequate service to it's customers. Let's repeat that, RELAC does NOT provide adequate service to it's customers. It is about as reliable as a Yugo. In fact I'd be willing to bet that the Kremlin would have been extremely interested in installing such a reliable system as RELAC (Russia's Extremely Loony Air Conditioning?). The last time I checked though the USSR's time has come and gone. Much like RELACs time has come and should have gone a long long time ago. We do not live in a State that restricts an individuals right to choose between a system that works and makes sense and one that does not. It is time for Restonian's to realize their unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of EFFECTIVE Air Conditioning.

  4. Broke in Charter Oak (BiCO): Soon-to-Be "Amongst the 'Hoods in Colvin Woods" and eventually "Arlington's Sexiest Simpleton (ASS)"April 28, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    Anonymous @ 10:13: Don't tell people in Reston the year is no longer 1967. You might frighten or confuse them, bursting that bubble of denial they have taken up residence within as a lingering effect of acid trips from years ago. Best to let them GRADUALLY come through the '90s and into the 21st Century. We must tell them comforting and soothing things. "Lake Anne is the epicenter of the known universe and will always be Reston's premiere downtown", "Tall Oaks Village Center is super-rad awesome and will never be home to a borderline third-world grocer", "gangs never have and never will exist in South Reston", "yuppie 40-somethings will never overtake North Reston with their BMWs and iPhones", "it will never take 30 minutes to get from North Reston to South Reston during rush-hour", "independent coffeehouses will never be threatened by a corporate chain with a green logo." Get the picture? Add to that "channeling cold water into our homes will always be the wave of the future in cooling!" You have to let people remain in their bubble of "Reston can never change." It's for the best, apparently.

  5. Well, I'm not going to insult people who like RELAC, and having replaced our heat pump and air handler last year, I understand that each homeowner having to install a whole new system in their home would be very expensive. (Though the $1,500 tax credit on energy efficient systems would help.)

    But the noise argument seems like a red herring to me. Today's systems are pretty darn quiet. When I stroll around my Uplands neighborhood in summer, I don't hear lots of air conditioners, even though everyone has one. (Though window units, I can't speak to.)

    I would imagine that RELAC is a drawback when it comes time to sell. Too hot in summer, no way to solve that problem, the potential in the future for having to install a full system, and questions about whether the warmth and summer's humidity combine to create a mold problem -- all reasons I'd be seriously disinclined to buy a property on RELAC.

    As for Lake Anne -- yes, the businesses there smell funny part of the year. And some of the places, like the second-hand stores and the pharmacy, have a time-warp quality to them. It's like the retail land that time forgot. The whole thing needs to be updated. It would be better for Reston if Lake Anne were a fun place to be. Right now it's just vaguely depressing. To me, anyway.

  6. RELAC works for SOME of the customers. Myself included.

    Let's also get this straight while we're at it: YOu don't have an inalienable right to chose your air conditioning provider.

    In fact, if you ever had one (which you didn't) you signed that right away when you signed the covenant.

    BTW do you get to chose your Gas company? I don't. Nor do I get to chose my water company. I'm also pretty sure my Electricity utility is also a monopoly.

    In fact all the choice of utility I have is in my TV service: Fios or Comcast or Dish.

    Don't like RELAC? should not have bought a RELAC home.

    Uplands is single family housing. Not anywhere near as dense as the townhome developments that are on RELAC.

    If you did stroll through the backyards of a townhome development you would hear the loud air con units everywhere kicking on and off.

    But if you walk through my neighborhood or any of the other RELAC neighborhoods, you will not hear air cons whirring.

    While RELAC works fine for me, I do feel for my neighbors who are not satisfied with the service. AQUA VA should be held to account to provide adequate service.


  7. Anon 12:21 again. HCKD, just fyi, Uplands has Forest Edge cluster, Hillcrest Cluster, and I'm guessing the townhouses off Becontree are part of Uplands as well. Maybe even the ones over off Hunt Club; not sure. But anyway, I live at Hillcrest Cluster. 173 units. Now, granted, maybe my ears regard AC units in the way they regard airplanes overhead -- just in the background. But I'm pretty sure that if you walked around here, you wouldn't feel like it's a cacophony of AC noise.

  8. HCKD,

    The covenant issue is not rational. If everyone in Reston was required to use RELAC this would be a valid argument. Moving on.

    Gas, electric, and water utilities all have basic standards that they must upkeep. As long as this basic standard is meet, an individuals need for that utility is met. Air conditioning is not a matter of a need it is a matter of a want. Every individual wants their air conditioning to operate at a different temperature and at a different time than everyone else. This is not something that can be nor should be regulated by a utility (or a housing association). RELAC has an estimated 500 customers which means there are 500 different basic standards that must be met.

    I agree anyone can walk though a RELAC neighborhood and not hear an air conditioning unit. However, that fact will be drowned out by the sound of traffic from Barron Cameron and Reston Parkway or perhaps the multiple planes flying to/from the international airport next door.

  9. 3:31

    The covenant is THE controlling issue. I'm assuming you live in a RELAC home. If you do, when you bought, you signed a covenant which bound you to use RELAC.

    If you are not a RELAC homeowner then your opinion is... well, like they say "everyone has one."

    What the rest of Reston uses for their AC is irrelevant. Moving on....

    You stated it best: AC is want not need.

    Some want to walk into a blizzard in August. You are not going to get that with RELAC.

    Reasonable level of service... REASONABLE.

    Now I truly do feel bad for those who don't get adequate service. It is not good. People should be getting something for the fee they pay.

    There are Objective standards which Aqua VA can be held to such as water temperature and flow at the point of entry into the home. And Aqua should be held to account for these things.

  10. Listen... what's that noise... it's residents of Lake Anne, lying in the shade, panting!

  11. HCKD,

    What the rest of Reston uses is 100% relevant. To restrict the rights of one section of Reston to choose how they cool their home while allowing every other Restontonian to freely choose is not rational. A solid argument can not be made for this covenant. Its legal legs are shaky at best.

    As we have already established that Air Conditioning is a want, "reasonable service" does not apply to a want. When it comes to wants, some people want a little, some want a lot. Reasonable can not be defined.

    You have brought up an interesting point that Aqua VA should be held to some objective standards. On this I agree with you 100%. However, the objective standard should not be the water temperature and flow as you have suggested. The objective standard that Aqua VA must be held to is pure laissez faire capitalism. This is the only objective standard that is right. And under this standard Aqua VA would be left without a viable operation and would quickly be swept away by the invisible hand of the free markets as it should have been years ago.

  12. Ahh the invisible hand of the free market. Now that's a rational argument for you. With such wonderful results a Goldman Sachs, the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, and the latest wonder of free market capitalism : the BP oil spill! But I digress....

    I am beginning to suspect that you do not know what a covenant is or how it operates.

    Further I am beginning to suspect if you even live in a RELAC cooled home.

    If you wanted to cool your home with Adam Smith's invisible farts then you should have used your free will and capitalist prerogative to NOT buy a home that has a covenant on it requiring you to use RELAC.


    And get a handle so you are not just another gutless Anon.
    You make some good points and it would be nice to be able to call you by a (fake) name instead of Anon 9:34

  13. HCKD,

    We would be nothing if it weren't for Goldman Sachs, Massey Energy, BP and the invisible hand of the free market. They provide the progress that America needs to survive.

    I used my capitalist prerogative to purchase in a great area for an even better price. RELAC is my oil spill.

    Lastly, I enjoy my Anonymous status.

  14. Gutless Anon 1:40

    Then if you chose to buy a RELAC cooled home, you had ample notice and you signed the covenant.

    Maybe the great price reflected the encumbrance on the land?

  15. Balance says:

    Ah, finally a chance to insult both sides of this string.

    To Anon (various times of day): HCKD has the right point of view on the covenants. What members of one cluster voluntarily agree to is their business alone. You would have my cluster eliminate its beloved Russet Brown because no other cluster requires it on the pallet? Your pint is dead wrong.

    To HCKD: Your use of the same initials on varoius posts (although we have no way of knowing tht you always use them) hardly rises to the level of gutfullness. If you wish to move to the corner of the room containing guts, use your real name. In the neamtime, you are no better than Anon (various times of the day) or me.

  16. HCKD does not have the right view on the covenant. HCKD has not provided any argument for having the convenant regarding RELAC. A rational argument can NOT be made. I challenge anyone to provide me with a rational argument for it. If one were to be provided I would not have an issue. Because that is the way it has been is not good enough. I would like to know why anyone would feel that it is right to restrict someones choice of how they cool their home as it is not only an issue of comfort but also an issue of health for a great majority of the people.

  17. If you have a health issue you can get an exemption.

    You signed the covenant.
    Nobody forced you to buy where you did.

    For me: the system works fine.
    rational argument: the homes on RELAC were designed to use the system.

    They have smaller back yards and are closely situated.
    The sound of individual AC units is significantly louder than the RELAC system. AC units are ugly and intrusive.

    The developers who created the covenant wanted to control the use of the land. This is a perfectly legal and widespread practice (same reason you can't paint your house some crazy color, and you have to pay RA assessments: covenants)

    Were you somehow ambushed by the covenant? No disclosure about the encumbrance?

    You CHOSE to buy where you did. Nobody forced you to buy a RELAC cooled home.


  18. I've been watching this with great interest. And while I agree with the Gutless Wonder that Bob Simon probably worked for the Hanso Foundation and the RELAC is just some failed experiment of the Dharma Initiative, I think that HKCD probably has the upper hand: you knew it was in the contract -- or should have known -- when you bought. Now, you might be able to get an exception (and have a rational basis for it) if you can show that the current situation is detrimental to your health and that the system can not be repaired or modified sufficiently to restore you.

    From my own side of the equation, I'm just tired of hearing my neighbor's 30-year old rattle-trap compressor going 24/7 just because her kid suffers from allergies. (How very convenient, I might add, in light of the fact that the kid goes out to play soccer at every opportunity.) Be that as it may, I couldn't just put in a RELAC system because it suits my needs. Instead, I've had to put in double-paned windows, sleep with my windows closed even when it's beautiful weather and strongly encourage the neighbor to replace their AC with a newer, quieter 12 SEER unit and to get the friggin kid to an allergist, because that is the best that my HOA allows.

    By the same token, I can't put solar panels on my roof nor install a wind mill to generate electricity just because I have problems with Dominion Electric's use of coal fired plants. Nor, for that matter, could I plow under my front yard and put in a cornfield simply because I don't make enough money to pay for groceries.

    And while it is true that I'm not using my real name, it is much easier to know where I'm coming from whenever you see "The Convict from the Gulag". In my mind, the Gutless Wonders are just undistinguished faces who hide behind the crowd, in much the same way that Hamas hides behind school children when lobbing Qassam rockets into Israel. We bemonikered folks are more like the IDF bulldozer operators who plow down your home. We're separate from the chosen people because you know our handiwork even if you can't put a real name and address on us.

  19. The argument above is annoying. Basically, I live on Lake Anne with two small children and this system does not work. Period. Case and point, it was close to 90 degrees in our house yesterday because RELAC did not turn the cool water on when they said they would. We had NO AC and it still isn't on even with hot temps predicted all week. Good times with a 6 month old. And how, pray tell, were we supposed to know how shitty this service was a year ago when we bought? Think the sellers were going to mention it?

  20. You have my sympathies. Having kids of my own, I can appreciate that when the little darlings are miserable, everybody is miserable. Might I suggest that you get yourself a window unit or two and tell RA to pound sand, when they come a-callin.

    I believe that, if there are substantial flaws with a system, i.e. RELAC, the sellers are supposed to disclose that prior to sale, if they're aware of it and, of course, assuming they see it as a flaw. If they didn't tell you about the RELAC system prior to sale, you may have recourse against the seller and the involved real estate agents.

  21. HCKD, if that is his real moniker, does not have the upper hand. HCKD has yet to provide a rational argument for restricting a tiny population of Reston to a system that is ineffective, does not work when the temperature requires it, is incredibly outdated and incredibly expensive to operate.

    While it is easy to say, "that's the way they were designed, that's the way it must be," it is NOT rational considering that RELAC does not work.

    The sound issue (birds and bees) has already been addressed and doesn't make a sound argument for RELAC.

    "The developers who created the covenant wanted to control the use of the land." May be the closest that HCKD has come to providing a rational argument for RELAC. However, any form of rationality goes out the door as you move away from the small minority of homes that are bound to the system and venture into the rest of Reston which are allowed to chose what system they would like to cool their home.

    While some people enjoy RELAC those that do not enjoy it should be allowed to move out of a pipe dream from the 60's and into the new millennium and cool their homes they way they want to. Those individuals that would like to live in the pipe dream are perfectly free to do so.

  22. Nobody's saying that you can't change the covenant. HKCD's point (mostly) has been that, RELAC is approved and window units are not. Until individual units are approved, you're going to either have to tough it out or ignore RA (and the consequences that come with that).

    I'm just curious, though. If you were allowed to move away from RELAC, would you be against paying for RELAC in spite of the fact that you don't use it? Or are you conveniently ignoring the fact that you're desire to escape your contractual obligations would place a greater financial (as well as environmental) burden on the folks who are content with RELAC.

    As for your "They don't have it so why should we?" argument, I'm betting that most of the nation's housing isn't covered under HOA's, and certainly an even smaller percentage that was built prior to 1980. Yet, we can't just ignore RA simply because these other folks don't have an HOA.

    By way of self-disclosure, I live in South Reston, so I have no real stake in this. Keep RELAC or don't keep it, it's pretty much all the same to me, as long as I don't have to pay extra to have it removed and individual HVAC units installed in your homes.

  23. Convict:

    If your neighbor's unit is over a certain amount of decibels you might have a nuisance claim..


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