SEATTLE – With the holiday season just around the corner, neighborhoods across the Northwest will glow with strings of lights. But whether residents choose more energy-efficient LEDs over traditional incandescent bulbs may depend on where they live, according to the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll.
The Seattle-based insurer found that, of those who say they decorated with outdoor lights last December, Washington residents were more likely than their Portland, Ore., neighbors to display energy-efficient LEDs. Half of Washington residents (51 percent) said they chose the more efficient LEDs, while just 43 percent of Portlanders said they did the same.
“We’re curious to learn what choices our communities make with their holiday decorations, what motivates those decisions, and how that may affect the environment here in the energy-conscious Northwest,” said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesperson.
PEMCO’s poll found that overall, 50 percent of Washington and Oregon residents display outdoor lights in December. While Washington residents favored efficient LEDs, both populations made power-conserving decisions with their holiday decor. Less than 3 percent of Northwest residents kept their holiday lights on 24 hours a day, and nine out of 10 from both states said the reason they turned them off was to save energy.
“Energy efficiency is our cheapest, quickest and cleanest new power resource,” said Nancy Hirsh, NW Energy Coalition policy director. “Everyone wins when we can enjoy the benefits of electricity without adding costly and often polluting new power generation. Switching to LED holiday lights is part of the growing ethic of energy efficiency that includes home weatherization and certified energy-saving appliances and systems.”
Still, many Northwest residents said they continued to decorate with old-style incandescent bulbs, also known as C-7s or C-9s, which are less efficient, more costly long-term, and may cause greater harm to the environment. Significantly more Portland residents do so – 36 percent versus 23 percent of Washingtonians.
With our abundance of renewable hydroelectric power here in the rainy Northwest – Washington generated 29 percent of the nation's net hydroelectricity in 2011 – some residents may think that burning a little extra electricity during the holiday season harms no one, but local energy experts disagree.
Although mountain snowfall and ample rain in the Northwest provide an abundant renewable resource for the region’s hydroelectric dams, local experts agree that our ability to produce renewable power isn’t an excuse to waste energy. In fact, even some renewable resources can harm our environment. Hydroelectric generation, for example, can damage salmon runs by blocking their migration routes with dams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Also, local supply of power is an issue.
“The Northwest is part of a much broader West Coast power grid that shares and sells hydro power to California and other Western states,” said Professor Steve Cook, a senior instructor at Oregon State University who specializes in conservation. “We can’t isolate ourselves and suggest that we are power rich and therefore our consumption levels don’t matter.”
Conservation experts also point out that the Northwest isn’t powered solely by renewable hydro energy. Historically, hydro power has accounted for 50 to 70 percent of the region’s overall energy production, with gas, coal, nuclear, and a growing amount of renewable wind and solar power providing most of the rest, according to the Portland-based Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
But there also are problems with throwing away your old C-7 and C-9 lights and replacing them with LEDs, said Professor Troy Abel, of the Institute for Energy Studies at Western Washington University.
“The materials contained in light bulbs are harsh on our environment and take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. Recycling is a better disposal option, but even that process requires a lot of energy for everything from the trucks it takes to pick up your recyclables to the machinery used to reduce the materials down to a reusable form,” he said.
Though that process is inevitable when disposing any product, some may think it’s better to use incandescent bulbs for their full life span before replacing them.
Abel added, “Buying LEDs may give you a false sense of environmentalism, leading you to put up more lights than you otherwise would have, and thus, use more energy.”
“Residents can easily use utility records to determine their own energy consumption,” said PEMCO’s Osterberg. “Energy use is public information, so if you’re curious about how your energy usage stacks up with your greater community, ask your energy provider for a comparison report.”
Speaking of those neighbors – about those whose outdoor lights never come down, to the dismay of some? The PEMCO poll found that just 8 percent said they leave their lights up year-round.
To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and to view a summary of the results, visit www.pemco.com/poll
, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll and see how their own responses compare with those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in November 2012. About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest PollPEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington and Oregon residents several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 600 respondents in Washington and 400 respondents in the Portland, Ore., metro area, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent and +/- 5.0 percent respectively at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range. About PEMCO InsurancePEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold to consumers by the method they choose – phone, local community agents, or online. PEMCO ranks “Highest in Customer Satisfaction among Auto Insurers in the Northwest Region” according to J.D. Power. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.