Deck the Halls with Strands of Diodes -- State Turns to LED Holiday Lights

By KATE PRAHLAD, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - Things just got a little brighter in Annapolis, but not because all the politicians have left town until January.

This holiday season, all the Christmas lights adorning the Maryland State House and the governor's residence will be light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, designed to save energy and money.

While strands of LED lights are more expensive at the outset—they cost the state about $13.95 for a strand of 600—they will make up that cost through energy savings, said Dave Humphreys, a spokesman for the state Department of General Services.

"A good estimate on electricity savings is about $1,360 for the holiday season on the State House Rotunda tree," Humphreys said. "The LEDs are brighter, provide more sparkle, and they last longer than the old mini-lights."

He said the new bulbs save as much as 80 to 90 percent on the electric bill, compared to incandescent mini-bulbs.

Holiday decorating has become one of the most common uses for LED lights, said Ronnie J. Kweller, spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy.

"Proportionately, you can still see that the LED literally costs about a penny a day, a fraction of a fraction of the cost of traditionally larger incandescent lights," she said. "They run at less than 10 percent the cost of using incandescent mini lights."

Switching to the LEDs is part of Gov. Martin O'Malley's Empower Maryland Initiative, which aims to reduce energy usage in state facilities by 15 percent by 2015.

Kweller said that LED lights "definitely pay for themselves in one season."

John Galeotafiore, the director of testing at Consumer Reports, agreed that LEDs pay for themselves, but he estimates that it might take as much as three holiday seasons to get a "payback" on them.

But heavy use of the lights, for example, on a large tree, "definitely will" save more money, he said.

"The longer they burn, the more energy they save," Galeotafiore said.

And they can burn for a long time.

"They are long-lasting. Most can last over 50,000 hours," Kweller said.

Since the LEDs do not have a filament, they produce almost no heat, she said.

"There's no risk of fire, or for example, of a child burning his hand," she said. "It's a totally different technology where most of the power is not lost through heat."

There are about 300 fires each year associated with Christmas trees and decorations, Galeotafiore said. A lot of times fires are sparked by people overloading circuits, he said.

"The LEDs run a lot cooler," he said. "These draw less energy and may not overload."

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