NEW YORK — It seems like everyone's trying to get in on the decorating act, but that's not a bad thing. The decorative touch this holiday season is LED lights, which use 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and 75 percent less than the mini-lights used for holiday decorations.
The Rockefeller Center tree for the first time uses light-emitting diodes, or LEDs; so does the tree outside Congress. And the lights, which pay for themselves in a few seasons, are for the first time mainstream in retail stores.
The trend goes beyond the holidays. Cities around the country are replacing stop lights and street lights with LEDs. In New York City, the replacement program includes greening the famous necklace lights on the Brooklyn Bridge next year.
Changing 160 lights on the landmark bridge, which turns 125 years old next year, is expected to cost $500,000. Other city bridges, which first got their lights in the early 1970s, could also get the modern makeover, officials said.
The switch from 100-watt mercury vapor lamps to 24-watt bulbs known as light-emitting diodes will not make the lights noticeably dimmer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised.
LEDs typically last three times longer than the mercury lights, said Jonathan Wish, chief strategic officer at LED Dynamics, which is not affiliated with the city's project. Most mercury vapor lights endure for 24,000 hours, or about 1,000 days, before burning out, he said.
"Because of the longevity, they're not going to have to change these lights for years, and that will save maintenance costs on top of electricity," he said.
The bigger benefit is reduced emissions of carbon dioxide. Since most electricity is from coal or natural-gas fired power plants, reducing electricity use reduces emissions of CO2 and smog-forming pollutants.
Replacing 1,000 street lamps with LEDs, for example, is about the same in terms of greenhouse gas reduction as removing 400 cars off the road.
The federal Energy Department estimates that within 20 years LEDs will reduce those gases by as much as one would see if 44 coal-fired power plants were closed down.
In New York, Bloomberg's administration released a report that found the city's carbon count was 58.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2005. That accounts for nearly 1 percent of all emissions nationwide; the U.S. total was 7.26 billion metric tons that year.
The mayor wants to achieve a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases citywide by 2030l.
Other changes aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions include replacing 25,000 street lights and phasing in new hybrid police and fire vehicles that use gas-electric transmission systems, Bloomberg said. The city also will test three hybrid garbage trucks.
The short-term projects are estimated to achieve a greenhouse gas reduction of 34,000 tons a year.
The Associated Press and NBC's Mark Potter contributed to this report.