Electric costs could make holiday spirits less bright

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A variety of Christmas lights and decorations are available Wednesday at the Home Depot in Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A variety of Christmas lights and decorations are available Wednesday at Target in Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    A variety of Christmas lights and decorations are available at Home Depot in Hilo.

As the holiday season begins its full swing, the cost of illuminating festivities might be too high for some.

Because of the high cost of electricity on the Big Island, already one of the highest rates in the nation, the addition of strings of Christmas lights might cause uncomfortably high energy bills for many.

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According to data from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the average residential electric rate on the Big Island this year is 33.98 cents per kilowatt-hour. Hawaii Electric Light Co. spokeswoman Rhea Lee-Moku said the average residential electric customer uses about 500 kwh each month, leading to monthly electrical bills in excess of $165.

Meanwhile, a 100-bulb string of incandescent Christmas lights draws more than 6 kilowatt-hours per month if illuminated for five hours a day, Lee-Moku said.

Residents can take steps to minimize additional energy expenditures by their holiday decorations.

“LED lighting is the most energy efficient method of lighting there is,” Lee-Moku said.

LEDs — or light-emitting diodes — use between 70 percent and 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and have an 8 percent to 25 percent longer life span, Lee-Moku said. A 100-bulb string of LED Christmas lights only draws 0.72 kwh each month if used for five hours a day, at the cost of less than a quarter per month.

Even better, LEDs emit far less heat than incandescent lights, reducing the risk of accidental fires.

“People can still be festive while managing their energy output,” Lee-Moku said.

She acknowledged that incandescent lights are generally considerably cheaper than LEDs and the cost of replacing a set of incandescent lights with LEDs can, in some cases, exceed the energy savings of doing so.

“It might be expensive to convert them all at once, but if you can convert them bit by bit, it’ll be worth it,” Lee-Moku said.

She said the longer life span of LEDs helps offset their initial cost, but emphasized that customer safety is paramount.

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When setting up Christmas lights, HELCO advises residents to keep themselves, their lights and any ladders at least 10 feet away from power lines, not hang lights on metal fixtures and replace any light strands with frayed wires or cracked insulation, regardless of whether they are incandescent or LED.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.