UPDATE, 11/27/2014: RA has clarified in a public statement that approval of the referendum requires only a two-thirds vote of those voting, not the entirety of the RELAC-served community. The RA statement is self-serving in that it states, "It was previously reported that two-thirds of all 343 members was required for the referendum to pass." In fact, that was the official position taken by the RA Board at its last meeting, November 20, on the advice of its counsel, Ken Chadwick. Both the Board members and Chadwick should know well that the RA Deed states that a referendum needs only the approval of 2/3 of those voting, not the eligible community. Once again, Reston was ill-served by its Board and long-time attorney, and they got called on it this time.
Last Saturday the new owners of Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning,
RELAC, held an open house at their plant, a first in living memory. The
event is part of a PR campaign by the new owners to persuade RELAC users
to vote to continue RELAC’s 50-year-old monopoly in the RA referendum
coming in January.
I took the tour and found it interesting, like a
visit to a museum. The guys had obviously cleaned it up, but you just
cannot hide old. The centerpieces of the plant are the four giant water
chillers, which look like small submarines. They are the originals,
50-plus years old. The RELAC President assured us they were built to
last forever. He also acknowledged that they are less than half as
energy efficient as their modern equivalents. Replace them? The cost
would be at least $250,000 each; one million for all four. They don’t
have the resources to make the investment needed.
The plant also has a
dozen powerful pumps—four large lake water intake pumps, originals with
recently rebuilt motors. In addition, there were more large distribution
pumps, also originals, to move water through miles of underground pipes
to all 343 townhouses and two condominium associations. The new owners
have done some restoration work on the motors of the old pumps. Still,
the pumps are not up to modern efficiency standards and waste a lot of
Then there is the chemical coolant to chill the thousands of
gallons of water. That coolant is FREON, a CFC banned by international
treaty about twenty years ago. RELAC’s use of Freon is grandfathered
until they replace the equipment handling it. You guessed it—an
expensive change not in sight. Freon was banned because it harms the
environment, but it is OK for those locked in to the RELAC monopoly by
Then there are the miles of deteriorating original
underground pipes which spring leaks—such as the one in front of our
home. Replacement should have begun way back. At a cost of millions,
replacement is nowhere in sight.
Two giant cooling towers occupy the far
end of the site. If updated to meet allowable noise levels, and
properly installed, they could enable the plant to operate when Lake
water levels drop too far. They have never been used by RELAC and there
are no plans to do so—both too noisy and too expensive.
is an inefficient, outdated chilled water system and an environmental
nightmare. Most commercial units at Lake Anne switched to reliable
standard A/C and many residential users have been granted health
exemptions to switch as well--because standard A/C is better for their
health. For some, this museum piece delivers adequate cooling most of
the time, especially for homes getting less direct sunlight or having
high power pumps in apartment buildings (including a couple of RA Board
members). Others are not so lucky, and simply cannot get reliable
cooling on warm days.
After 50 years of monopoly and a failure by
earlier owners to maintain and update outmoded equipment and technology,
it is time for some fairness, time to allow all residents the basic
right to comfort in their own homes—be it with RELAC or standard A/C
that better meets their needs. Yet the Reston Association proposes
changing rules of the upcoming referendum to make it more difficult for a
free choice outcome. Now, they want to require a two-thirds vote of all
users rather than two-thirds of those actually voting as called for in
the Reston Deed and applied in the 2005 referendum. Go to www.freefrom15.org for frequently asked questions, more info.