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Holiday lights cause U.S. demand for power to grow 5 percent

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2002 — The annual ritual of stringing up holiday lights around homes and businesses throughout the nation is estimated to increase the U.S. appetite for electric power by at least five percent each December, the Edison Electric Institute said Thursday.

An “average” U.S. home using 10 strands of typical holiday lights consumes 750 watts of electricity per hour; each string normally uses 75 watts of juice, EEI reported. Typically, holiday lights are illuminated about five hours a day, for roughly a 30-day holiday season, EEI estimates. New holiday lights purchased each December translate into about 2,250 gigawatt hours of power consumed, approximately enough electricity to power the city of Seattle for three months.

According to the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), approximately 200 million “new light strings” are sold each year. These new lights would wrap around the earth almost 23 times and consume enough electricity during the holiday season to power all of the homes in Vermont or Wyoming for an entire year.

Back in the 1920s, most electric power companies set annual peak demand records during the holiday lighting season, said Steven Rosenstock, EEI’s manager of energy solutions. He added that today, however, most parts of the United States have their peak demand during the summertime.

According to the California ISO, which operates that state’s electric power grid, holiday lighting adds approximately 1,000 megawatts (MW) to the state’s electricity grid, almost enough electricity to power one million average-sized California homes.

In the northeastern U.S., holiday lighting adds about $7 to the December power bill of a “typical” home displaying 10 strands of lights, EEI said. The comparable additional cost in the Midwest would be $4.64; in the Southeast, $4.30; in the South Central, $5.03; in the Rocky Mountain region, $4.69; and in the Pacific coastal area, about $6.35.

For homes using more than 10 strings of typical lights, or homes using older, less-efficient lights, the December power costs would be slightly higher, Rosenstock said.

EEI reminds customers to exercise caution and keep safety in mind when holiday lights are on. “We remind customers to carefully inspect their electric light displays and use only strings of lights approved by the Underwriters Laboratories,” Rosenstock said. “We urge folks to avoid the use of frayed cords, to turn holiday lights off before going to sleep or leaving the house unattended, and to use more than one circuit to avoid overloading household wiring.”

“We also ask that customers unplug lights from outlets before changing bulbs, and to make certain that holiday lighting displays are far removed from any overhead power lines,” Rosenstock said. “Keeping holiday trees well- watered, and ensuring that holiday lights and bulbs are not touching tree needles, are other essential safety tips.”

The following table illustrates different types of holiday lighting and the approximate energy costs.

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is the association of United States shareholder-owned electric utilities and industry affiliates and associates worldwide. Its domestic members generate approximately three-quarters of all the electricity generated by electric utilities in the country and serve about 70 percent of all ultimate customers in the nation.