BIBAI, Hokkaido (Kyodo) Community Home Bibai, a nursing facility for the elderly, uses snow instead of air conditioners in the summer to keep its residents cool and comfortable.

When a 4-meter-high storeroom door is opened, a giant mound of snow inside emits cool air. In the early spring, the insulated chamber took in 300 tons of snow for use in the summer.

The facility for about 80 elderly residents utilizes cold water from the thawing snow and sends cool air from it to the main dining hall, which stays cool throughout the summer.

By late summer this year, the snow mound had shrunk to about half its size and its surface was blackened by earth and dust.

An elderly woman seemed to be enjoying a cool evening under an air vent.

“The temperature in the dining hall is just right,” said the home’s deputy director, Tatsuyuki Kikuchi. “It’s a mixture of hot summer and cold winter. It is very good.”

Unlike air conditioners, the cool air at the facility is considered more elderly friendly.

Snow is usually a headache for people who live in northern Japan, where injury, even death, caused by snow falling from rooftops is not all that uncommon.

Snow removal can also be expensive.

Sapporo spends more than 10 billion yen a year to clear snow from its streets.

The use of the snow at the nursing home represents the city of Bibai’s effort to exploit a new energy source.

A senior municipal official strongly urged the home’s managers to use snow for air conditioning, and the storage facility was completed in 2000.

The municipality spent about 20 million yen for the system, which has an estimated life span of 50 years.

It was difficult for the municipality to justify the expense, given the stringent financial situation due to Japan’s prolonged economic slump. Nevertheless, it was done.

Kikuchi said: “It’s not a question of money. It’s more important not to use oil, for the sake of the global environment.”

The agricultural cooperative in Bibai also has a snow chamber. It keeps its storehouse holding 6,000 tons of polished rice preserved at a temperature of 5 degrees.

“We can supply rice throughout the year that tastes like it’s newly harvested,” a co-op official said.

The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy considers snow a “new” source of energy, along with wind and sunlight.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government’s economic and industrial bureau said facilities using snow for air conditioning can be found in more than 90 places nationwide.

Some 13,000 tons of snow were used for such purposes in 2000.

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