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Longtime air-conditioning provider for Lake Anne residents halts operations

Townhomes in Reston’s Waterview cluster are among the Lake Anne residences served by RELAC (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 10 a.m. on 12/13/2023) A community-oriented utility company that offers chilled water for air-conditioning has iced out over 600 customers in Reston.

Reston Lake Anne Air-conditioning Corporation (RELAC) announced yesterday (Monday) that it plans to halt its cooling system after this year, citing increased electrical costs and the refusal of some customers to pay their utility bills.

The company concluded its 2023 cooling season on Oct. 10 and typically shuts down for the winter. Regulated by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, it uses water from Lake Anne to provide air-conditioning to homes around the lake.

A Reston Association spokesperson says the organization plans to work with the community to determine next steps.

“We will be diligently working in the coming weeks to understand the full impact of this action to best help out affected members know and understand what alternatives to RLAC exist and the role LARCA and RA have moving forward,” Cara O’Donnell said in a statement to FFXnow.

Reston has 600 residential properties and 25 commercial ones that rely on RELAC for air-conditioning, according to RA.

In the past, some homeowners have sought to end the mandated use of RELAC, complaining that the 1960s-era system is outdated and inefficient. Referendums failed in 2008 and 2015.

Here’s the full text of the company’s letter to its customers.

We, the owners of RELAC, regrettably and with great difficulty have to announce that the 2023 cooling season will be the last year that RELAC provides chilled water to our customers. We have reached this decision due to many factors including the following:

Electrical costs have increased 20% in the ten years we have owned RELAC.

We have considered applying for a tariff increase which would cost over $50,000. We believe it would hasten our customers applying for exemptions as rates would increase by up to 30%.

We did promise not to increase the tariff 11 years ago and thought we could cut costs with new equipment but found it impossible to secure a loan for a new chiller that would cost over $400,000.

Reston Association continues to grant “health exemptions” to customers without enforcing the rules returning homes to RELAC when they change ownership. We now have 33 homes off the system.

A significant number of customers on the RELAC system have refused to pay their utility bills. This has caused a serious problem for RELAC’s bottom line. The amount of unpaid utilities has fluctuated between $80K to $120K. We have sent letters, made phone calls, knocked on doors trying to reason with customers to pay their overdue bills. Some customers are years behind and we have no way of turning off their service as the other utilities do.

We have been a community oriented utility for over 50 years and understand the hardship we are generating on our customers. We know that the cost of retrofitting a new A/C system will be expensive. Leaving our good customers is the worse part of this decision and we feel a profound regret. The decision we have made is not an easy way to end our relationship with you, our loyal customers.

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