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Green lighting gains converts

MILWAUKEE — Rather than warmth and good cheer, the twinkle and glow of homes festooned with holiday lights reminds Adam Siegel of carbon emissions and global warming.

Siegel insists he is not a Grinch, only green.

“You can have a beautiful display, a gorgeous display, you can even have massive display, but why do it in a wasteful way?” said Siegel, a blogger from McLean, Va.

There are signs that after several years of floundering holiday sales for energy efficient LED lighting, more people feel the same way.

Manufacturers and retailers across the country report sales that are surprisingly brisk even during an economic downturn. For example, light-bulb maker OSRAM Sylvania said it doubled its LED sales since last year to between 15 million and 20 million LED units.

LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, can be three times more expensive than traditional incandescent lights but they use 90 percent less energy, produce less heat and last longer.

Siegel has done the math on his blog, GetEnergySmartNow.com, which is not affiliated with any energy or lighting company. He calculates that an average string of LED lights saves enough energy to pay for itself in as little as a year.

Calculations by other independent researchers suggest the break-even point could be two to three years, depending on how long the lights are left on.

Regardless of who is doing the math, the upfront cost of LED lighting is almost always worth the investment, especially with more utilities throwing in additional incentives that can range from $2 to $4 per set.

Among the first to switch over to LED lights were large corporations or municipalities that stand to save the most.

At the Milwaukee headquarters of beer brewer MillerCoors LLC, a 200,000-light LED display using 15 miles of lights has been synchronized to music. Company spokesman Mike Jones said LED lights cut holiday lighting costs by 60 percent.

The government swapped out traditional lighting on the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., which now has 37,000 LED lights.

Prices for the greener bulbs can still be a barrier for some. For example, Amazon.com sells a string of 100 multicolor LED holiday lights for about $28, while the incandescent equivalent is about $10.

Even so, 21 of Amazon’s top 25 holiday-light sales are LED products.

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