Olympic Village tenants decry excessive energy bills
The group managing two City of Vancouver–owned housing properties at the Olympic Village is hearing complaints from residents about excessive energy bills.
Thom Armstrong, executive director of the COHO Management Services Society, admitted that his group also wants some answers.
“As to the level of the invoices, we have some questions about that ourselves,” Armstrong told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Unlike many residents outside the Olympic Village, which has been touted as a model of a sustainable neighbourhood, residents of the Southeast False Creek development are charged two bills for energy.
One is for electricity consumption, and this bill comes from B.C. Hydro. Then there’s a bill from Enerpro Systems Corp., a North Vancouver–based company. According to information that Enerpro put out about its billing, the charges cover “heating, cooling, hot water, and cold water”.
According to Enerpro, the charges are based on in-suite consumption monitored through individual meters it has installed.
Geoff Mulligan, Enerpro’s vice-president for internal operations, said that he cannot directly comment on claims that his company’s bills are too high. The Straight obtained an Enerpro billing for one of these buildings, but no resident is willing to speak to the media regarding their concerns, for fear of being evicted.
“The one I can say is that I think this is a very brand-new system,” Mulligan told the Straight in a phone interview, referring to the energy meters. “People are used to paying, you know, maybe just a gas bill if they’re in a house. But nobody has ever seen hot water–specific bills, heating-specific bills, especially in a multifamily residential building, because that’s a cost”¦absorbed within all the rents. So I don’t know how they’re making that comparison or being able to make that justification that they’re too high.”
It was Mulligan who responded to a call from the Georgia Straight to Enerpro CEO David Van Seters, who also happens to be the founder of Small Potatoes Urban Delivery, a grocery-delivery business promoting organic food. Van Seters’s SPUD was supported financially during its infancy by the investment firm Renewal Partners, whose president is Joel Solomon, a backer of Mayor Gregor Robertson.
According to Armstrong, COHO contracted Enerpro on behalf of the city.
COHO manages 101 units of mixed-market and affordable rental housing in one building at 122 Walter Hardwick Avenue.
It is also in charge of 67 units of market and affordable rental housing at 80 Walter Hardwick Avenue. This particular building has been lionized as a “net zero building” because it was designed to produce as much energy as it consumes.
According to Enerpro’s information material, energy rates for its billings are set by the city-owned Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility, which generates heat from waste, and B.C. Hydro. Armstrong said that heating for the Olympic Village comes from the neighbourhood energy utility. As for the cold water, he said, it comes from the “city’s fresh-water supply”.
According to Armstrong, Enerpro charges a flat monthly administrative fee of $12.50 for each billing, with the rest going to the City of Vancouver.
The city’s communications department did not provide a city staff representative for interview before deadline.
According to Armstrong, COHO is “seriously” considering questions from residents about the charges.
“The promise that we made to the tenants was that we would do everything we could to gather the facts, because at this point when a tenant says, ”˜I think my bill is too high,’ there could be any number of explanations, right?” Armstrong said. “I mean, one could be they’re using maybe”¦more energy. Maybe the equipment is not reading the consumption properly or maybe the metering system is not calibrated properly. We could probably imagine five or six different explanations, but we don’t know.”
Armstrong said that COHO is calling for a meeting with city engineers and Enerpro staff to sort out energy billings.
In the meantime, residents of the two city-owned housing properties who have concerns about the charges have been told not to pay for now, according to Armstrong.
“If it does turn out, say, that there is an inaccurate reading, we don’t want somebody to pay for energy they haven’t used,” Armstrong said. “I still very much support the notion of individual energy metering, because that’s the only way to create any incentive to lower energy use and lower the carbon footprint. So I think, on principle, it’s what we want to do. We just want to make sure that the system is working the way it should be.”