By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Officials in scorching Phoenix began harnessing the power of the sun on Wednesday to help chill commuters baking in triple-digit temperatures as they wait to use the city's light rail system.
In an idea borrowed from sun-drenched Dubai, a solar-powered cooling system blasts cool air over commuters waiting for their next train at a station in downtown Phoenix, where temperatures peaked at 118 Fahrenheit this week.
Just press a button and blowers on top of the steel-and-glass rail station at Third and Washington streets blast cold air for the next 15 minutes, chilling the stop by as much as 40 degrees.
"The more we can continue to make Phoenix light rail more friendly, the more people will use it," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon told Reuters. "We think it's a cool idea."
The air-conditioned station is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, according to the American Public Transportation Association in Washington, D.C.
It also comes just in time for throngs of out-of-towners who are expected to pack into Phoenix for Major League Baseball's All-Star Game next Tuesday. Activities are scheduled to begin on Friday.
Gordon said he brought back the idea from a trip to Dubai about two years ago, and broached the possibility with NRG Energy Center Phoenix, owned and operated by NRG Thermal LLC.
The company brought back several alternatives and settled on building the system at the Third and Washington streets station.
The location was picked because the firm's chilling facilities are nearby and already provide cooling for the city's baseball stadium, basketball arena, convention center and other major downtown buildings.
NRG Energy is paying the $300,000 cost to build the system at the rail station and will be responsible for any operation and maintenance bills, said Jim Lodge, the company's vice president and general manager.
The system will operate from 8 a.m. until midnight from May through September.
Gordon said plans call for the city to possibly expand the program to its other light rail and bus stops if successful, using money generated from advertising at the stations to provide the required revenue.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Cynthia Johnston)