Finding the Power for Future Griswold Christmas Lightshows

By Don C. Brunell

It is that time of year when people put up their outside holiday lights and displays. Judging from our neighborhood they are decorating more than usual.

In our country 90 percent of individuals say they plan to celebrate the holidays this year. Total retail sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas are projected to reach $957 billion.

The setting for the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is reminiscent of bedecked suburban communities. Clark Griswold decorates every foot of his home and front yard. However, when he flips the light switch, the rest of the city blacks out. You can envision Griswold extravaganzas draining the power grids.

Christmas Vacation is a classic movie and fun to watch. In real life, homes, stores, and businesses across America are glowing with millions of colorful lights this festive season.

According to Electric Choice, if Griswold were to decorate his house in 2023, his electric bill would be $2,000 higher for the holidays. Rocket Homes estimated 63 percent of residents put holiday lights up on their house or in their front yard in 2022.

House Method calculated the costs to power four sets of 13.25-foot-long icicle lights, two sets of 28.8-foot string lights and two 6-foot-tall inflatable yard decorations for six hours a day from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is $10.51 in Washington and $12 in Texas.

The Center for Global Development estimates the United States uses more electricity each year for holiday lights than the entire country of El Salvador consumes for an entire year.

With a population of 29.4 million and a thriving industrial sector, Texas is the state with the highest energy production and consumption. It uses 70 percent more electricity than California, the state with the second highest consumption.

Most Texas electricity is still generated from fossil fuels; however, the state has over 38,000 MW of wind generation capacity, which is one-fourth of the total U.S. capacity. It also leads the nation in solar panel power.

But all that electricity is not enough.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) called Texas a harbinger for the country, adding power demand is climbing across the nation as industrial users connect to the grid, populations grow, and weather gets more extreme.

“Everything is bigger in Texas, including its electricity use, which is increasing at rates in a sign of what is to come for much of the U.S.,” WSJ’s Jennifer Hiller wrote. The country’s largest electricity producer and user saw sales grow at five times the national rate for the past decade. It is like adding Louisiana to the grid.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) also projected increase in required electricity in our region could lead to a gap between generation and supply in the future. Washington is likely to consider investing in additional power generation capacity to meet the demand which is projected to rise by 25 percent over the next decade.

Washington also will need replacement electricity from non-wind and solar electricity plants. Centralia’s TransAlta coal-fired power plant which the company says is at “its peak generated energy ample enough to power Los Angeles” will close in 2025.

Our state is heavily dependent on hydropower which accounts for 70 percent of our supply. We could also lose electricity from the four Lower Snake River dams if a Biden Administration secret agreement to remove the dams, which was recently leaked, comes to fruition.

Those dams provide 20 percent of the region’s electricity when fully operating – enough for electricity to provide two million homes with low-cost power which is carbon–free, climate-neutral renewable.

While we are focusing on “Clark Griswold Christmas” lightshows, we cannot ignore a larger problem which is the electricity supply in the next few years. A decade is a short time.


Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at