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Reston air-conditioning service to restart, thanks to community donations

Homes by Lake Anne in Reston (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Reston’s central air-conditioning service is officially returning to keep hundreds of residents and businesses cool this summer.

RELAC Water Cooling announced on Sunday (March 31) that it has received enough community donations to be able to provide chilled water for air-conditioning to roughly 635 residential and commercial properties in the Lake Anne area.

Now run as a community-driven, volunteer nonprofit, the organization says the infrastructure and operations of its cooling plant will be “significantly enhanced.”

“This project has been made possible only with your and the community’s support,” the RELAC team said. “We will be able to refurbish much of our plant, upgrade equipment, and provide seamless service starting May 22, 2024, or as soon as temperatures hit 80°F for two consecutive days in May.”

The announcement came just a couple of weeks after a failed referendum conducted by Reston Association that would’ve revoked a provision in the Reston deed requiring homeowners to use central air-conditioning service if it’s available to their lot line.

Established in the mid-1960s and regulated by the State Corporation Commission, the Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning Corporation (RELAC) uses cooled water from Lake Anne to provide air conditioning to Washington Plaza, Waterview and four other residential clusters in the area.

The utility abruptly announced in December that it would no longer provide cooling services after 2023, reporting that increased electrical costs, an inability to get a loan for a new chiller and some customers refusing to pay their bills made it unable to continue operating.

In its announcement, RELAC said it had considered increasing its tariff but anticipated that would drive more customers to seek medical exemptions, since rates would increase by up to 30%.

As some members worked to restructure RELAC as a co-op, RA held a referendum vote from Feb. 13 to March 8 to repeal the provision requiring residents to use the central AC service. If passed, the repeal would’ve allowed those residents to instead install individual AC units, with the approval of RA’s Design Review Board.

The measure fell short of the two-thirds of voters needed for approval. Similar referendums failed in 2008 and 2015.

Now led by residents on a steering committee, RELAC Water Cooling was registered as a non-stock corporation with the SCC on Feb. 5. The new organization still ultimately hopes to become an official cooperative run by members but was unable to make that happen in time to prepare for this year’s cooling season, according to its website.

In order to resume operations this summer, RELAC solicited community donations to cover $296,000 in equipment repairs and replacements, including new motors and filters. Plans to obtain a new chiller have been deferred to 2025, when the organization says it will more likely be able to “obtain funding…and in turn reduce cost[s] to users.”

RELAC says its tariff for the 2024 cooling season will remain the same as they were in 2023. Rates are regulated by the SCC.

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