News and notes from Reston (tm).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Frankie Goes to Richmond: RELAC Don't Do It (Build a Fancy Cooling Tower), Get Some Sort of Rate Increase (We Think)

800px-Reston,_Virginia_-_Lake_Anne_plaza.jpgDo you like legal thrillers? Then put down that boring John Grisham novel, because we've got 197 pages of the most exciting legal maneuvering ever -- case PUE-2011-00130 before the Virginia State Corporation Commission, in which RELAC, everyone's favorite jet-age, lake-powered cooling system, sought another rate increase, which (we think) they got, at least on an interim basis. Legal documents are confusing! But they're chock full of fun tidbits like this:

Spellbinding stuff. We can TOTALLY see Julia Roberts in the role of "Q."

Way back in ought-10, RELAC won a 56 percent rate increase from the SCC, in exchange for a bunch of promised service improvements and a fancy website or something. RELAC again filed for a rate increase late last year, asking for $108,775 in increases, saying it was running a "negative return" on its Reston operations. Anyhoo, following a hearing last month, the SCC entered an agreement allowing an "incremental revenue requirement" of $78,000, which translates to an unmetered service rate of $52.61 for residential customers and $67.10 for commercial customers, and $13.02 per 1,000 gallons and $6.51 for 1,000 gallons in excess of 10,000 gallons, all "pending a final order in this proceeding." Fairfax County was involved in the case and chose not to oppose the rate increase.

Richard Kennedy of Waterview Cluster was the sole witness at the June 5 hearing. Here's part of what he said:
I have two issues that I want to talk about . First is the exorbitant cost of the system, and the second is the service we get from Aqua . To put this issue of cost in perspective, 1 want to tell you what my personal costs are for electricity and gas heat for the year, and that's $1,918 . That's for electricity and gas, and that includes the electricity that I need to run my fan for RELAC .

With Aqua's rate increase request, my RELAC rate for about five months of air conditioning service would be $1,950, or slightly more than my yearly cost for electricity and gas heat for my home, and I really submit, is that reasonable? I don't think so .
Turns out that another Waterview Cluster resident has developed an online system that tracks the outdoor temperature and the temperature of the chilled water delivered to his home by RELAC. As home projects go, that beats the hell out of the IKEA bookshelves we just put together.

It also turns out that RELAC has also decided not to add the fancy cooling towers it won approval for from the DRB earlier this year after all. Here's the BLOCKBUSTER CONFESSION from the SCC hearing:

You Can't Handle The Truth.jpg
Shorter version: YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

To be fair, RELAC officials did say the cooling towers could be installed "at a future date." And at some point (probably now), RELAC customers will get higher bills for their fancy chilled lake water, the end.


  1. This is probably the same group of fellas that kept the Dharma Initiative from upgrading their system from a manual system that needed human intervention every 182 seconds to a fully automated one.

  2. RELAC? Really?? I am dying to know, and I encourage Restonian to commission a study/survey to discover, which Reston cluster pays the most in exorbitant and futile fees for things that may... or, more likely, may not work well. This should include routine RA dues. All of these fine Utopian ideas were doubtlessly well intended, but in more than a few cases, they've drifted wildly out of control. When you're also paying RELAC fees, it must you feel especially proud to learn that your RA dues go up each year so that we may furnish our fine RA board members with the convenience of an iPad. The logic confounds me: okay, I've got it! we'll pay more, give them iPads, and then they can Google map clusters to identify the ones to which they'll send their over zealous violation seeking minions, who will find at least 5 violations per unit per cluster. I'm so glad we pay people to find ways of making us pay more. Only in Reston.

  3. Wouldn't it be cheaper for RELAC customers to experience more consistently cooler air conditioning by contracting with Bain Capital to outsource a Cold War-era Russian freighter to tow a moon-size iceberg from Antartica to the National Habor whereupon the Peterson Company would take final delivery of the now melted Macaroni Grill-size semi-frozen slurpee clump of gunk that would be airlifted and dropped into Lake Anne complete with an MGM casino on top? Hot slots and cooler water...a win-win for all brought to us all by the free enterprise system.

  4. RELAC...what can I say. I live in the Lake Anne area and am forced to be on RELAC. Mr. Kennedy's numbers are absolutely correct. We could pay off an individual unit in several years with the money saved by getting off RELAC. BUT! Getting off RELAC is not as easy as it sounds. The water level is quite low and the country club continues to water its greens with the precious stuff. There is a constant onslaught of noise, day and night,from the machinery at the chillers. The machines are necessary to keep the sludge and fish out of the pipes so that the precious water can flow in and get chilled. Once upon a time, this was a great system.

  5. Peasanrt From Less Sought After South RestonJuly 12, 2012 at 8:45 PM

    That was every 108 minutes, Convict, not every 182 seconds.

    More to the point, I suspect RELAC's problems are caused in part by all your damn Viking funeral pyres adrift on the lake that are raising the water's temperature!

  6. The Air-Conditioned Java MasterJuly 12, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    Given the known problems with RELAC, why do a majority of Lake Anne residents seem to still favor the system? It is strictly a matter of cost conversion to another system that compels folks to just keep what they have, imperfect as it is?

  7. Nah, JM. It's the damn purists that wouldn't want to sully the ideal of the original vision of Reston.

    Frankly, I think that all of those people that on Lake Anne who are opposed to RELAC should stage an act of massive resistance and put up window units. When RA comes knocking, just tell them that the inefficient RELAC system is bothering Fifi's asthma.

    You're absolutely correct, Peasanrt. I realized the error as soon as I clicked the "Publish" button. Unfortunately, this system doesn't offer a "Mulligan" button as well.

  8. We pay RELAC $1300 for the season + electricity.
    The fact that the rates keep rising for a system that does not work consistently is a joke. Reston Association is not working for its citizens to help the situation. They just do not care. RA should be embarrassed that they allow Hidden Creek to use lake water to water the golf course which then impacts the AC system.

    Moving off the system is expensive but worth the piece of mind. Until you want to sell your house and RA states you must switch back from your new efficient system that you just paid $10K+ for to the old system that doesn't work consistently and is very expensive to run. Makes NO sense.

    Come on RA do what you are supposed to do and support your residents and property values. DO SOMETHING!

  9. Java Master Enjoys His Whole House ACJuly 13, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    Oh, it's the cosmc muffin commutarian "original vision of Reston" thing again? Hah! I had no idea that it still had such a strong hold on the cooling-deprived Lake Anne folks. Well, they can always vote with their feet, I suppose, but good luck trying to sell your residence on a warm day...(altho it does happen, I suppose).

  10. There actually was a referendum several years ago and the majority of Lake Anne residents voted to KEEP the stinkin' system. Apparently the peace and quiet of no outdoor units polluting the air with incessant and loud sounds was worth the sacrifice (to them) of cool housing during the hot summer months. Needless to say, we did vote with our feet (we actually RAN to vote!) but were outvoted by the crunchy-granolas.

    Moving off the system is indeed expensive and we would indeed have to remove the energy-efficient system and revert back to the old RELAC. Moving off the system also requires lengthy paperwork including finding some valid reason you should be off it. You can't just say that it's incredibly expensive, old, inefficient, sucks, and I have the financial ability to replace it. Most who have successfully gotten off (in my cluster at least) have "medical reasons" like severe seasonal allergies or asthma. The form must be signed by a health professional attesting to the fact that closing your house in hot weather and using your own system is in your best health interests (the system is turned on when we have 4-5 consecutive days of 80+ degree weather but ONLY IF the nighttime temps. are above 40ish degrees because another cluster uses the pipes for their heating system!). It sort forces you to lie or stretch the truth. Great message for our kids!

    We just got our first RELAC bill yesterday. We are on the flat-rate, not metered. The first bill was $500; multiply that for the 5 months that we are permitted to have air conditioning. This does not include our electricity bill for the month. We estimate it costs about $600/month!

    Calls have been made to Hidden Creek but to my knowledge, they have NOT ceased using the water to beautify the grass.

    Come on over for the 3rd annual Ukelele Festival today (11 am - 5 pm). Take a gander over the Van Gogh Bridge and take a left onto the trail. Stop at the chiller just beyond the pool. Listen to the noise generated by the machinery tirelessly plugging away to clear the sludge and fish so we can be sort of cool. Be careful walking past the clearly marked area where Care of Trees is trying to remove the tree in my backyard (those orange cones really do mean something!).

  11. Forgot to thank Restonian for keeping us poor Lake Anne/RELAC folks in your thoughts. I was wondering when this season's posts would start up!

  12. Like the salmon of the Capistrano Restonian, who can't resist a bit of good old fashioned interwebz trollery, returns to the perennial Lake Anne RELAC meme.

    Yawn. Restonian you are boring.

    1. Think it's swallows, not salmon

    2. Apparently you are not a Jeff Daniels fan.

  13. Email received from Jon Patrick, general manager of Hidden Creek CC, regarding their ongoing grass beautification program while RELAC and Lake Anne residents watch our utility bills rise, suffer from low-water levels, which in turn impact our air conditioning:

    "So you know, we have cut back on the amount of
    water that we have been pumping from Lake Anne as of late. Unfortunately, mother nature hasn’t been very kind to any of us this year however, it does look like we are going to get a break in temperatures later this week, it also looks like we will be getting some much needed storms tomorrow. Please understand that we are doing what we can and will continue to do so."

    EXCEPT cease sucking the precious water from Lake Anne to water your stinkin' grass!!! Not such great neighbors...


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