Cheakamus DES engineering study released 

Head of WDC says heating system report shows 'no smoking gun'

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The head of the Whistler Development Corporation said a recent study into Cheakamus Crossing's controversial District Energy System (DES) shows there's "no smoking gun" explaining the litany of technical issues residents have encountered.

The DES is a closed ambient heating method that captures waste heat from Whistler's sewage treatment plant to pump into homes that was touted by officials as an energy-efficient, cost-effective system in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics.

The reality is that some residents have run up thousands of dollars in maintenance and repair bills since the system was first installed. A 2015 poll of 85 Cheakamus Crossing residents found that 80 per cent were not satisfied with the system.

The Whistler Development Corporation (WDC), developers of the Cheakamus neighbourhood, commissioned a $15,000 mechanical engineering study last year to try to identify any possible design, installation or equipment flaws. Vancouver's Integral Group Consulting assessed 19 individual heating units in all.

"I think in many ways people are looking for the smoking gun. I don't think there is a smoking gun," said WDC head Eric Martin while presenting the report to council. "Like any mechanical system, especially one that's complicated, I think there are things that could've been done better."

The study's author, mechanical engineer Ken Newbert, identified several technical issues with the DES, namely around the heat pump and air valves, which were not accessible on some units.

Eighty-seven per cent of the units analyzed also showed water samples that were outside of the recommended acidity levels. Newbert recommended water samples be taken from each Cheakamus Crossing heating unit in the future.

In his presentation, Martin noted that a complete system flush had been done prior to the Athlete's Village opening for the Winter Games as well as before residents took up occupancy, although no evidence of flushing has been provided, said Cheakamus resident John McGregor.

"We have asked and nobody has been able to provide proof, including the engineer (WDC) hired (for the study)," he said.

"We cannot comment on the procedures used to clean, flush and fill the systems at original startup as there was nothing in any of the documents reviewed indicating what the procedure was," the report stated.

Newbert also highlighted a concerning lack of information provided early on to residents on how to properly maintain the complex heating system.

"We are a bit disappointed by the completion documentation and lack of detail on the procedures used for startup and commissioning and the lack of final Operating and Maintenance Manuals," read the report. The RMOW has developed a Homeowners Quick Reference Guide and Technical Service Guide, which Newbert said, "should go a long way to alleviate this deficiency."

But Cheakamus Crossing's resident rep throughout the study wondered why it's taken so long for the materials to be provided.

"Why did it take six years to produce a Technical Service Guide when the report says it is critical and mandatory for serving and maintenance of the DES system?" Tony Routley said. He also questioned why residents are on the hook for costs to repair a system that has baffled even qualified technicians.

"Is it reasonable to ask the residents to pay the annual service costs of approximately $2,100 a year if all goes right, and $3,800 for the first year, just to get it hopefully up to speed so we don't have further problems?"

In an effort to create more consistency around repair work, Martin suggested stratas organize group maintenance work on individual units in the neighbourhood.

"I personally like the idea of working towards the stratas taking on the uniform maintenance of these various individual units and certainly that's something that, amongst other things, there should be further discussion about," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

For more on residents' concerns surrounding the DES, pick up next Thursday's edition of Pique.


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