Air-conditioning levies leave JBR owners hot under collar

Jumeirah Beach Residence apartment owners in Dubai say they are being overcharged by the company that provides district cooling for their flats.

October 31. Jumeirah Beach Residence for Stock. October 31, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National)
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DUBAI // Flat owners in Jumeirah Beach Residence say their air-conditioning bills have risen greatly to cover building costs of district cooling plants.

Residents say they are being hit with the extra costs regardless of how much or how little they use their air conditioners.

"It can't be right that a bill can increase from Dh200 four years ago to Dh1,000 a month now," said Hamid Hamri, a Belgian who claims to be paying more despite reducing his use of air conditioning in the Sadaf 4 building flat he owns at JBR.

"I feel we are all overcharged under the district cooling system."

District cooling is a centralised process of distributing chilled water to several buildings.

The cold water is used to lower the temperature of air passing through a building's air-conditioning systems, according to Empower, the energy company that provides the service to JBR buildings.

Robert Pacella, an Australian who bought his flat in JBR's Amwaj 4 in 2008, said the cost of his monthly air conditioning was about Dh300, but he had to pay an extra Dh1,600, which he said was to cover the cost of building the district cooling plants.

"I'm very careful how I use my AC and turn it off when I don't need it," Mr Pacella said. "But the extra charges work out at Dh400 a quarter and it means no matter what I do I'll still have to pay that charge. District cooling is a good idea but the implementation is not."

He said the fairest way to charge users was to include the building costs in the price for individual use, and then people could decide how much they wanted to use.

"When you buy petrol, you don't pay a separate flat fee for the cost of refining the oil and distributing it," Mr Pacella said."It's all added into the cost of petrol and then the consumer can decide if he wants to buy or not."

Francis Key, a Briton who also lives in JBR, also said it was unfair for people to pay for the cooling plants.

"Empower needs to figure out a fairer way of charging people because at the moment, even if you cut back the AC you don't see the benefit," Mr Key said.

Empower has launched a campaign to inform its 16,000 users about the billing system.

Ahmed bin Shafar, the chief executive of Empower, said customers were billed by the hour through individual meters according to what they used.

Mr bin Shafar said the charge was based on the size of the flat.

He said there was also an annual recurring demand charge levied by Empower for providing the cooling service, which was billed quarterly.

There is a further quarterly charge for "meter maintenance", and a one-off connection charge.

The charges are subject to revision, Mr bin Shafar said.

But Mr Hamri said some of his neighbours wanted to know if the meters Empower had installed were accurate, and if residents were being charged just for their own use.

He said residents believed they were being overcharged for cooling the common areas of JBR.

"We have asked Empower on several occasions to explain why this is the case but no one ever gets back to us," Mr Hamri said.

Empower also charges a fee for water that enters the building, then charges consumers again for its use in their apartments, Mr Pacella said.

"There is no need to charge individuals for the water cooling once it's in our buildings because that equipment belongs to the building and not Empower," he said.

A spokesman for the Abu Dhabi district cooling company Tabreed said the utility was a wholesaler to developers and did not charge the end user.

The spokesman said developers had the choice of passing the savings of district cooling on to consumers but in some cases the developers did not do so.

Mr bin Shafar recommended ways by which Empower customers could save on bills. "To save energy, customers must control their consumption by optimising the setting of their thermostat or reducing cooling losses through their windows and doors," he said.

"We value our customers and we believe educating the customer on our services and billing systems is the key to winning their loyalty."