NYC Says 'Cool It' to Air-Conditioning the Sidewalk

The lure of a cool blast costs 22,000 barrels of oil and pumps out tons of carbon dioxide.
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The lure of a cool blast costs 22,000 barrels of oil and pumps out tons of carbon dioxide.

Energy costs inspire a new ethos. Welcome to New York; close the door on your way out ... please.

Imagine taking a steamy, summer-afternoon stroll along your downtown sidewalk when a gust of arctic chill wafts though the open doorway of your favorite clothing or electronic goods store, beckoning you to enter, and you check out the really cool stuff on the shelves.


But this scene, replicated in downtowns all over the country, is not considered cool anymore in New York.

The widespread summertime practice of luring customers with blasts of air conditioning through wide-open doorways has come to an end.

On Sept. 3, 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a first-of-its-kind energy-saving bill that requires New York City businesses to keep their doors closed to conserve energy, curb air pollution and reduce the demand on the city’s stressed power grid.

According to Eric Goldstein, director of the New York Urban Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a business leaving a typical 6-foot-by-7-foot doorway open with the air conditioning blasting during the summer months wastes up to $1,000 worth of electricity and releases about a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (The NRDC provided technical assistance in drafting the ordinance, which also garnered the support of Partnership for New York City, a prominent group representing business interests in the city.)

Goldstein says the Long Island Power Authority has estimated that stores engaging in this practice waste from 20 to 25 percent of the air conditioning they use.

Though no comprehensive figures on the prevalence of the practice exist, Con Edison (New York City’s power supplier) estimates that if 5,000 city merchants engaged in the practice, the potential waste over the season would amount to 21 million kilowatt-hours, equivalent to 22,000 barrels of oil and the release of 11,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

The city’s peak electricity demand has reached record levels over the past several summers, according to Goldstein, leading to power outages and brownouts. This summer, he said, “The drain on the city’s power grid has caused several Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods to lose power and slowed transit on five subway lines.

“This practice is foolish — it inflates these stores’ electric bills, and it puts city neighborhoods at an increased risk for blackouts.”

And, Goldstein said, it just doesn’t make sense to New Yorkers. “Everyone just intuitively wonders, ‘Why, on the hottest days of the year, is this arctic chill pouring out from these storefronts onto the sidewalk?’”

The law applies to stores occupying more than 4,000 square feet and stores that are part of a chain of five or more outlets, requiring that they keep their doors shut while the air conditioner is operating.

The law allowed a few exceptions to reduce the “burden this legislation may place on restaurants and small businesses,” Bloomberg said. Stores of fewer than 4,000 square feet and restaurants opening to sidewalk cafés are exempt.

Though the regulations don’t officially take effect until January, they will be in full effect by next summer. At that time, first offenders can expect a warning. A second offense will net a $200 fine; for those who are still not convinced to “chill out,” the fine doubles to $400 for a third offense over any 18-month period.

Goldstein said the new law “will help businesses do the right thing for New York City, for energy costs and for the environment … that will hopefully be imitated by other cities across the nation.”

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