Decorators say displays must go on.
Soaring electricity rates apparently aren't going to dampen holiday cheer in Eugene this year. Some of the biggest and brightest home lighting displays are going up, despite power costs that rose by more than 30 percent last month.
Richard Derrick of southwest Eugene broke out his collection of decorations Thanksgiving morning. He trims his house and yard in hundreds of lights, as well as wreaths, a snowman, a Santa and sleigh, and a big star over his roof.
Derrick, an independent salesman for Romania Toyota, said he thought about scaling way back this year. His twin sons, both college sophomores, persuaded him to keep the tradition alive.
"Like they said, it is Christmas. And with what's going on in the world today, you still have to have Christmas," he said. "Their friends enjoy it, the neighbors still enjoy it. That's what's important to me. I just like it to look nice."
Derrick, who lives on Blackburn Street off Bailey Hill Road, plans to turn his lights off earlier at night this year.
"We used to leave them on until 11 or 12 at night. Now we may shut them off at 9, maybe a little later on Friday and Saturday nights," he said.
In Santa Clara, Beverly Henderson said her husband, Lloyd, probably will go all out on his annual display, despite the two 16 percent rate increases adopted this year by the couple's power provider, Emerald People's Utility District.
"I'm encouraging him to cut down, but we'll see," Henderson said. "Once he gets started, sometimes there's no stopping him."
He got an early start this season with his newest feature: an American flag made of lights. It went up on the roof on Scenic Drive after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The retired construction laborer usually decorates everything, his wife said, including trees, bushes, telephone poles, walkways, the garage door.
"If there's an empty spot, he throws something up," she said. "I think he goes overboard. We'll just have to wait and see what happens when he gets really started."
She figures running the lights for about six weeks cost them an extra $80 last year and may run another $40 on top of that this season.
"It starts to add up," Henderson said. "He can still do a nice display without quite so many."
Michael Loucks is expanding his large light display on North Clarey Street in the Bethel neighborhood. The Williams Bakery bread deliverer plans to have nearly 8,000 bulbs twinkling outside his home this weekend.
"I thought about it for a while and then decided, we only keep them on three or four hours a night. And we use the little ones, not the big ones," Loucks said. "It can't cost more than just a few dollars a month to run those little ones."
He's right, say energy experts. That many mini lights could cost as little as $22 a month, according to the Eugene Water & Electric Board.
The standard incandescent (C7) bulbs burn up more energy and cost about 2 1/2 times more to run. The energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) lights, meanwhile, run on just a few watts and cost about nine times less to operate than the popular mini lights.
LED lights may be harder to find, but they definitely are the smart solution, according to the Energy Ideas Clearinghouse, operated by the Washington State University Cooperative Energy Extension Program.
Replacing standard holiday lights with LED lights can reduce energy use by 99 percent and also cut the time one spends replacing burned-out bulbs. The bulbs last up to 100,000 hours indoors, half that long outdoors.
Still, keeping light displays modest may be the prudent course for most residents, especially if they heat with electricity. Power use normally shoots up in November and December as temperatures drop and the days grow short.
"The weather is getting colder and the nights are getting longer. People should realize that their energy use is going to go up because of those two factors," said Rob Roy, an energy management specialist at EWEB.
Customers have seen residential rates go up twice since last Christmas - 5.4 percent April 1 and 36 percent, on average, Oct. 1. Under the utility's new tiered rate structure, statements this month show power costing anywhere from 15 percent to 80 percent more, depending on how much electricity a household consumes.
On top of a flat rate for delivering power, EWEB now charges rates that climb once a customer passes a certain amount of electricity use each month. For example, at 3,000 kilowatt-hours, the rate jumps from 4.7 cents to 6.3 cents per kwh.
"Because the price went up, every hour of operation for another electric appliance is going to add cost to your electric bill," Roy said.
"I think the Christmas lights represent marginal energy use on top of everything else, so they would need to look at the cost to operate that for a fixed amount of time."
Making sure outdoor lights are on for only a few hours each evening is the best way to keep bills in check, Roy said. He suggests using a light timer, commonly used during for vacations.
Roy also recommended an efficient lighting layout, for aesthetic purposes as well as conserving energy. "Figure out how to stretch your resources," he said. "Instead of loading that Christmas tree up with five strings, try three."
If residents are really worried what their holiday decorations will cost, they can attempt to calculate the additional cost based on the wattage of the lights, found on the package it comes in:
Multiply the wattage by the hours used.
Divide by 1,000 to get kilowatt-hours.
Multiply kilowatt-hours by the cost per kwh (the electricity rate, such as $0.04718).
EWEB spokesman John Mitchell said he recently calculated the additional cost of holiday lighting for one customer and found it to be marginal.
"It looked like it would be in the neighborhood of an extra $7 for that month he had his lights up," Mitchell said. "He was concerned because he had a considerable number of Christmas lights."
Mitchell said he probably would scale back himself, and perhaps wait a little longer to put up his lights this year.
Decorating the house for the holidays is a family affair for the Derricks of Eugene. From left: Jean, Randy, Richard, and Riley begin stringing an elaborate display of Christmas lights onto the front of their house in southwest Eugene. This year the Derricks plan to budget their use of electricity more carefully. MATT ANDERSON / The Register-Guard
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|Title Annotation:||Electricity: Higher power prices won't dampen the holiday spirit too much for families with a passion for lights.; Environment|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 23, 2001|
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