Aspen city officials are eyeing a policy that would crack down on the numerous Aspen shops and galleries that leave their doors wide open year-round, in the hopes of saving energy.
“It drives us all nuts,” said Will Dolan, a utilities specialist with the city, calling the practice a blatant waste of energy.
City officials plan to bring City Council a package of proposals by the summer that would cut down on energy use and increase efficiency, in order to reduce the use of fossil fuels in town. The effort is being worked on in hopes of getting the municipal electric utility up to 100 percent renewable energy, as it will soon be at 89 percent.
“It’s definitely one of the policy options we are considering as a priority,” Dolan said of a potential open-door regulation.
However, the city has heard “push-back” from business owners when the issue has been raised in the past, he said.
Many local shopkeepers say that leaving the doors open significantly increases foot traffic in their stores, because it creates a more welcoming atmosphere. Otherwise, people might not realize the store is open, according to some businesses.
“I think all businesses should do it,” said Damian Guillot, owner of the Aspen Art Gallery on Mill Street.
Guillot also pointed to the use of “air curtains,” employed by most of the open-door businesses, which maintain a constant stream of air across a doorway, and theoretically cut down on the amount of leakage.
Jeff Rice, utilities efficiency manager for the city, said it’s clear that a 21-square-foot hole — about the size of a door — in any building is going to be an energy drag, and that a closed door is “far better” in terms of saving energy than an air curtain, especially in the dead of an Aspen winter.
“When the door is closed, you are not going to use energy to run an air curtain,” Rice pointed out.
Perhaps the way forward would be to make sure businesses can have signs showing they are open — which might require tweaks to the sign code — in order for the doors to be closed, Rice said.
However, Rice, who works with many businesses in town on large-scale efficiency upgrades, said bigger energy gains can be realized through better heating, cooling and lighting equipment.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilman Steve Skadron said they were in support of at least bringing a policy forward for debate. Both are considering running in the spring election — Skadron for mayor and Ireland for council.
Councilman Adam Frisch, also a potential mayoral candidate, said he would rather meet with business owners first to get their input on how to increase efficiency.
“We should be as energy efficient as possible without being harmful to the small business community,” he said.