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Power companies calculate the price of Christmas electrical cheer

Kevin Castle • Dec 3, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Odds are you’re probably going to pay more for the lights than the electricity to operate them, even in the most extravagant of outdoor Christmas displays.

Power providers for the Tri-Cities, both Appalachian Power Co. and the Tennessee Valley Authority, have conducted tests and done the math when it comes to calculating how much it will take to brighten Santa’s sleigh or illuminate Rudolph’s nose.

In either case, the cost is mere cents on the hour thanks in part to light manufacturers becoming most cost-conscious.

Jeri Matheney, AEP corporate communications manager, says the company’s research has determined that Tennessee customers have among the cheapest rates on AEP’s power grid during the holidays.

“The good news is the cost of operating decorative lighting is relatively low because (AEP) provides its customers with some of the least expensive electricity in the country,” she said.

“While the national average cost of electricity is 11.4 cents per kilowatt-hour or kwh, (AEP) customers in West Virginia and Virginia pay around 7 cents per kwh, while Tennessee customers pay close to 5 cents per kwh.”

Data from the Johnson City Power Board and the TVA show that a standard mini-light set of 100 bulbs that uses 40 watts of electricity gathered in strands of three would cost less than four cents to operate for four hours a day. Similar information from AEP shows if the same wattage and size of bulb is operated five hours a day for 30 days, or 150 hours of illumination, a customer would end up shelling out $1.05 in power costs.

They did note that if the decorator decides to use a bulb that blinks instead of a constant light, the cost decreases by half.

Matheney noted that a new manufacturing process in the Christmas light industry that uses Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights are another way that consumers can cut costs and improve the safety measures during the holidays.

“(These lights) use a single bulb and emit light through the strands. They last 10 times longer and are safer because they produce less heat than a traditional light set,” she said.

“LED light sets often have a higher up-front cost, four to five times the cost of a string of incandescent bulbs, but they use 95 percent less electricity.

“(AEP) customers could operate a set of LED lights consuming only 5 watts for the entire 150-hour holiday season for about 5 cents or less.”

She also said that customers can really see their electric bill increase if they use the larger, screw-in type 7-watt incandescent bulbs, which cost about 4.9 cents to operate and would cost the customer $7.30 cents in the long run.

No matter what the wattage or the number of strands of lights, no savings occur when outlets are overloaded, which can easily spark a blaze. The Electrical Safety Foundation estimates $41 million in property damage and 2,000 fires are the result of improper or faulty decoration mishaps in the United States each Christmas season.

Both companies recommend the following precautions for customers preparing for elaborate Christmas displays both indoors and out:

•Avoid overloading electrical circuits.

•Connect lights to power strips that have several outlets and a built-in circuit breaker.

•Never use candles to decorate trees.

•Never place your tree, decorations, wrapping paper, gifts, and/or ribbons near a heating source or hot lights.

•Discard lights that have broken or cracked sockets and frayed bare wires.

•Use one long extension cord rather than linking several small ones.

•For additional protection, plug lights into circuits protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters.

•Avoid using tacks, nails or metal staples to secure light strands.

•Use only UL-approved (Underwriters Laboratory) lights and extension cords.

•Use the correct lights for the job. If it says indoors on the light box, use them indoors.

•Water your cut Christmas tree daily.

•Remember to unplug outdoor lights when you go to bed.

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