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How Atlanta Botanical Garden lights up for holidays for less


The profusion of multicolored lights in the Garden Lights, Holiday Nights display at the Atlanta Botanical Garden can boggle the mind.

There are tunnels of color, stars in the trees and smooth, strange, glowing geometric solids, like lighted Christmas ornaments, perched on the Great Lawn.

RELATED: 7 locations in metro Atlanta and beyond for holiday light shows

Adorned with almost 2 million bulbs, the garden’s yearly light show is one of the most popular attractions in the city.

It’s a Clark Griswold riot of self-indulgence, but in these energy-conscious times, is it also an unfortunate squandering of electrical power?

Actually, not so much. The Garden Lights display, which remains open through Jan. 7, is engineered to sip, rather than guzzle, at the grid.

First, the garden uses LED lights almost exclusively, which are 80 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs. “We really don’t use much of the old ones anymore,” said Mary Pat Matheson, the garden’s president and CEO, estimating that 95 percent of the bulbs in the garden are LED.

The garden also buys its power through a “green” energy program, which supports solar and biomass power generation. “What you’re doing is buying credits” at a slightly higher price than the cost of conventional energy, Matheson said.

The expenditure is appropriate, she said. The garden is dedicated to conservation, and is acutely aware of the problems created by fossil fuel-generated power, which contributes to climate change and the loss of many plant species.

“We’re dealing with record-breaking fires in North Georgia and throughout the Southeast; record-breaking drought; a record-breaking hot summer, and these are all impacts of climate change,” Matheson said.

“For us to pay a little bit more, those are the trade-offs that we need to do as a society. We need to watch our energy use, and do it in a way that’s sustainable.”

LED bulbs also offer a flexibility that makes the display on the Great Lawn particularly hypnotic. Those “Orchestral Orbs” blink on and off, brighten and dim and change color to a menu of prerecorded music.

The Botanical Garden’s display isn’t the only holiday light show that aims to economize on power.

For several years, the 8 million-bulb Fantasy in Lights display at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain (now celebrating its 25th anniversary) has been replacing old bulbs with LED lights, and is now about 99 percent LED, according to spokesperson Rachel Crumbley.

The park hopes to inspire visitors to do the same with their own home displays. “The more that we do it, the more common it becomes,” she said.

The lighting display at Stone Mountain Park is also virtually 100 percent LED lights, including the bulbs on the 275-foot tree atop the granite monolith, according to spokesperson Jeanine Jones. “We moved to LED lights a few years ago.”

At the Botanical Garden, setting a good example is part of the attraction’s mission. The garden hopes to encourage some of the 165,000 who will visit the light show to adopt the same approach to minimizing impact.

“We’re a green organization,” Matheson said. “We couldn’t conceive of doing a light show that was not energy-efficient. … We work on the assumption that the power we’re using is equal to what two or three houses might use.”

EVENT PREVIEW

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights

Open 5-10 p.m. nightly through Jan. 7. Prices vary: adults, $23-$41; children, $17-$35; some $20 tickets are sold for peak evenings after 9 p.m. Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave., Atlanta. 404-876-5859, http://atlantabg.org/visit/events/garden-lights.


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