Letter to the Editor for the week of January 2 

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - DES DISCONNECT Tony Routley is one of eight Cheakamus Crossing homeowners who have disconnected or are in the process of disconnecting from the neighbourhood's controversial District Energy System.
  • Photo submitted
  • DES DISCONNECT Tony Routley is one of eight Cheakamus Crossing homeowners who have disconnected or are in the process of disconnecting from the neighbourhood's controversial District Energy System.

The real cost of Whistler's Green 2010 Olympics DES heating systems

As one of eight owners of Cheakamus Crossing townhouses who replaced their DES heat-pump system with a high-quality electric boiler with optional instant hot water heating coil, I can now look back and ask, "Were the claimed benefits of the heat-pump system realized and, more important, were the associated costs worth it?" Based on a cost-benefit analysis and my experience to date with the system that replaced my DES heat pump system the answer is a resounding, "no" based on a number of factors.

Townhouses constructed for the 2010 Olympics Athletes Village are well insulated, Whistler's climate moderate, high winds rare and DES heat-pump systems do not provide air-conditioning. So any benefits are limited to space heating only for the associated portion of the annual hydro billing cycle.

A reasonable estimate of the cost of each heat-pump system is $35,000. The cost per square foot of the mechanical room required for the heating system must be factored in. The mechanical room in my townhouse is approximately 100 square feet. At $300 per square foot, the mechanical room added about $30,000 to cost of my DES heat-pump system. This brings the up-front cost to approximately $65,000 before my system was even turned on.

Space heating accounts for about half of my $126/month average hydro bill; $63/month. If my DES heat pump system saved $100/month on my hydro bill, it would take 650 months or 54 years before any savings would be realized.

DES fees added $48/month (38 per cent) to my $126/monthly average total hydro bill, including 76 per cent to my heating hydro portion. Replacing the existing water heaters every 10 years with water heaters of the same size would add approximately $7,500 or $63/month.

Critical annual maintenance adds another $50/month bringing the total cost of operating my DES heat-pump system, over and above hydro, to $158 per month. This does not include the cost of repairs and replacements of the heat pump and associated components.

But by far the most significant issue and source of justifiable concern is the fragility of the DES heat-pump system.  

In an article that appeared in the April 7, 2007 edition of The Toronto Star, Dave Hatherton, one of the pioneers of residential geothermal energy in Canada, saw the recognition of energy efficiency as a double-edge sword. Winner of an Ernst & Young Award for Ontario that honours outstanding entrepreneurs from across the province, Hatherton had a major concern: whether the geothermal and solar industries could handle any increases in demand without compromising quality. Said Hatherton: "This isn't just shipping iPods," referring to the complexity of a geothermal system. "It's infrastructure work and it's enormously expensive to go back in and make a fix if things go wrong."

There's no room for error, and any horror stories would surely be a setback for the entire industry. This made Hatherton nervous.

I used to share Hatherton's nervousness. Thankfully, this is no longer the case.

David MacPhail // Whistler

Reconsider tourist-accommodation zoning for Alta Lake development

[This letter is] regarding [the] 5298 Alta Lake Rd. Rezoning Application RZ1157, [which] "proposes to rezone the lands from TA17 (Tourist Accommodation Seventeen) to a new zone that would allow for development of 15 employee restricted townhomes, 22 tourist accommodation townhomes, an amenity building, and a Municipal park containing the existing cabin and barn."

I am not against this proposal, although I question the density.

I hope that staff negotiates diligently to keep the scale/density of this project as low as possible. This is a beautiful lakefront property that should not be overdeveloped.

What I really question though, is the tourist-accommodation (TA) zoning. As a municipality we worked, and continue to work diligently to keep nightly rentals out of residential neighbourhoods. There is no need for TA zoning in this area: far from the village and/or mountain lift access.

Whistler was designed to have most of the TA-zoned properties within walking distance to the village and the mountain base areas in order to keep neighbourhoods quiet, peaceful and family-friendly. Illegal nightly rentals can be a disruption to homeowners with party noise, extra traffic, laundry, catering trucks, taxis and buses invading their neighbourhoods.

I know the Jordan Lane homes are all TA-zoned but these homes, along with the Kadenwood homes, were TA-zoned to fulfill a need. There was a demand for TA-zoned homes so that groups of families/friends could come to Whistler and stay together. Giving Kadenwood and Jordan Lane TA zoning helped to take the illegal, single-family home nightly rentals out of our existing neighbourhoods.

There is not a demand for TA-zoned townhouses. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Village and Benchland townhouses and condo hotels are not fully occupied.

The low occupancy level for existing TA beds is a concern for Tourism Whistler's accommodation sector.

Why do these developers not only get increased density, but TA zoning as well?

I know this property has TA zoning as it stands now, but it is going through a rezoning process, so TA zoning doesn't have to run with the development. The current TA zoning is for a small lodge and cabins—not anywhere near the density of 22 market townhomes and 15 employee-restricted townhomes.

TA zoning will increase traffic over and above residential zoning. The Alta Lake Road and Highway 99 intersection is already a problem. The Prism Lands market and employee-housing development at 1501 Alta Lake Rd. will also add additional stress to that badly congested intersection.

You have to ask yourself if you would like to live in a townhouse development with potential disruption from a nightly rental townhouse right next door. It could be a nice place to live—but not with TA zoning.

Please consider removing the tourist-accommodation zoning from this development.

Stephanie Sloan // Whistler

(Editor's note: This letter was sent to council and is included in the Dec. 17 council package.)

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