Cheakamus resident feels 'ignored' over energy system problems 

Neighbourhood developer says process in place to deal with issues

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A Cheakamus Crossing resident, who has paid thousands of dollars in repair bills for her heating system, believes the issue is being brushed aside.

"I feel like we're just being ignored," said Cheakamus resident Karen Thomson, who's incurred approximately $7,000 in repairs and maintenance with four different companies since the District Energy System (DES) warranty expired in 2012.

Thomson said she cannot afford to take legal action unless a class action suit is pursued by Cheakamus residents.

"It's just an unfortunate thing that I think we're going to be stuck with," she said.

"We were angry that (the DES unit) was likely installed faulty and rushed due to the Olympics, but no one takes ownership of this.

"I feel like repairs done on a properly installed unit are one thing, but when it was installed badly it should be covered."

Thompson sent a letter to council March 4 to ask for action, but Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden referred the letter to municipal subsidiary Whistler2020 Development Corporation (WDC) president Eric Martin, who said staff would go over service records for Thomson's system to try and identify the source of the problems for her specific unit.

Martin also stressed that "there was no rush" to install the DES in Cheakamus ahead of the Olympics, and that all units were installed and tested by engineers months before the Games began.

Responding to the claim that some of the units may have been improperly installed, Martin said that the system's problems are "unit specific" and "to have a technician speculate as to what may have happened in the past, I'm not sure that that's particularly scientific."

He also pointed to service records that showed in many instances that Cheakamus residents did not use WDC-recommended companies to service their units during the warranty period, and that owners have a responsibility to approach contractors if they believe technicians did faulty work.

"There's a process and everyone knows what the process is," he said. "We didn't install (the DES), we sold the units, and we had contracts in place and warranties in place for the benefit of the owners, and if there's something that people think is amiss, I guess they need to look to who was the supplier and installer."

The DES is a closed system using relatively new technology that captures waste heat from Whistler's sewage treatment plant and pumps it into homes, assisting with ambient heating and providing hot water for homes. The system was designed to reduce household energy use and potentially save Cheakamus residents up to 30 per cent on monthly hydro bills.

Peter Harteveld, the owner of Custom Air Conditioning, said his company's technicians have encountered the same problem with several units they've serviced, and thinks some of the issues residents continue to face could have been prevented at the time the DES was installed.

"A good portion of the problems residentially that we've found were preventable," said Harteveld, although he stressed that every unit is different, and could only speak to the ones his company had dealt with specifically. Several companies were contracted by WDC to install the units, depending on which area of Cheakamus work was being done.

Harteveld said that a crucial chemical treatment wasn't added to several systems at the time of installation, leading to the formation of chemical scaling, which plugged up heating pipes. Custom Air sent a sample of the material to a Vancouver lab that determined it was calcium buildup — the same problem plaguing several other units they had encountered.

Harteveld said a "lack of maintenance and/or commissioning" could have contributed to the issues many residents have faced with their systems.

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