California power shortage dimming some holiday lights

LOS ANGELES - Power shortage or not, Lori Bledsoe doesn't like the idea of turning off the Christmas holiday display at her Valencia home.

The glittering 16-foot Ferris wheel, light-strung candy canes, the tree festooned in green bulbs - for five years they've been a tradition.

''It takes my husband two weeks to put it up,'' she said.

Around the state, however, California's unprecedented winter electricity shortage has been dimming some of the holiday cheer. Homeowners were urged to wait a few extra hours after dark before turning on their outdoor holiday lights. Some big displays were being shut off entirely.

The twinkling lights that festoon trees and rooftops around the state consume as much additional power as 1 million homes, said Lorie O'Donley, a spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which controls the power grid for much of the western United States.

''We don't want to spoil Christmas, but here we are,'' said Jim Detmers, ISO's managing director of operations.

He said holiday usage is up in the past few years because of the popularity of ''icicle lights,'' curtains of tiny bulbs that drape homes which, in years past, might have made do with a single string of colored lights.

Bledsoe said she would hate to shut down her family's display, which draws up to 50 cars a night to the suburban enclave north of Los Angeles.

''I would just sob, because I have small children,'' she said. ''My husband and they made all these things together.''

The shortage has dimmed some of the larger displays. Gov. Gray Davis presided over the state's official Christmas tree lighting on Tuesday, then switched off the lights to save power.

At Sea World in San Diego, the 2,000 holiday lights on its 320-foot tall tower remained off for a third night Friday.

''We pulled the plug,'' spokesman Bob Tucker said. ''It sends a very positive message to the community about being extra energy conscious.''

In Long Beach, plans were going ahead for a Sunday light show to inaugurate a 65-foot-tall decorative lighthouse in the works since 1997, although how long the lights will remain on is an open question.

''This is one day at a time, maybe an hour at a time,'' city spokeswoman Kathy Parsons said. ''We're hopeful that we'll be able to shine.''

In Alameda, Monte Boscovich and Peter Romualdez were cutting back on the operating hours, but not the size of their Christmas display. Their cottage was decorated with more than 4,000 lights, an 8-foot tree covered in light-up snowflakes and a dancing Santa and Mrs. Claus.

To compensate for some of the power usage, they changed their indoor lights to lower-wattage bulbs.

''Every night the same kids come by with their parents to look,'' Boscovich said of the display. After all, he added, ''It's once a year. That's what Christmas is all about.''


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