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Coal in your turkey and other holiday energy

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If by the end of this holiday you're feeling just a bit wiped out, don't feel too bad — Thanksgiving takes a lot of energy.

Not the kind of energy that can be supplemented with caffeinated beverages either. If you live here in West Virginia, that bird in the oven is probably being cooked by coal, you probably rode to Grandma's house on a tank of gasoline and that hot-water hogging brother-in-law in the shower is racking up his own energy toll.

Let's take a look behind the curtain at some of what it takes to put on this holiday. Obviously we'll start with the turkey.

First, we're going to assume you have an electric oven — most U.S. households do. Let's also assume your oven uses about 4,400 continuous watts of power to cook the now not-so-gobbling gobbler.

With an approximate cooking time of five hours (assuming he's a 20-pounder or so), that equals about 22,000 watt hours or about 22 kWh. Appalachian Power's current kWh rate is about 9.7 cents. So cooking that turkey costs about $2.13.

Let's say our power plant is burning coal with about 20 million Btu/per short ton energy content, a figure that the Energy Information Administration poses as an example for determining coal burned per kilowatt hour. Given that assumption, one kilowatt hour of electricity requires about 1.03 pounds of coal or .00052 short tons.

Given those calculations, it looks like your 20-pound turkey spending five hours in your electric oven is going to burn about 22.66 pounds of coal.

That number is, of course, an approximation and doesn't account for line loss and other inefficiencies.

According to West Virginia Census data, the state has an estimated 748,517 households. If every one of them cooked a turkey, under our assumptions that'd be just short of 17 million pounds of coal burned cooking turkeys at a cost of about $1,594,341.21.

Of course, there's probably not going to be 100 percent turkey participation.

As we hinted earlier, that's not the only energy being used to make Thanksgiving happen. Now that we've established some rather dry math facts, we can run out some of the other numbers a little quicker.

Watching some football on Thanksgiving? Even with the most inefficient televisions you're probably looking at just a few pennies a game. Besides, if everyone is gathered around cheering on their favorite team you're conserving by sharing.

Nationwide, AAA estimates about 43.6 million will be traveling nationwide for Thanksgiving this year. About 9 in 10, or 39.1 million of those travelers will be moving by car. The average American traveling for Thanksgiving is going about 588 miles.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average light duty vehicle averaged 23.8 miles per gallon in 2009.

Of course perhaps some of the biggest uses of energy will happen after Thanksgiving. Traffic flocking to Black Friday shopping events, in addition to the extra time shops will be open, certainly contribute to energy usage.

Once that's all over, we move to the arguably the brightest holiday of the year — Christmas. While it may be a bit early to think about, Christmas lights will almost certainly come out in droves over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Let's say we pick up five strings of Christmas lights with 100 five-watt bulbs on each string. That's about 500 watts per string or 2,500 watts for the whole set. That's 2,500 watts to light up the house.

Now, remember Appalachian Power customers pay about 9.7 cents per kWh (much lower than many other states) so our fictional lights are costing us about $0.24 per hour. Leave those up for 30 days, six hours a day and you'll see your bill increase about $43.20.

How many pounds of coal is that?

Well, 180 hours of powering 2,500 Watts of Christmas lights over the month is about 450 kWh or about 463.5 pounds of coal using energy-content assumptions from the EIA.

Using LED lights or mini-lights or, of course, fewer lights can slice this number many times over.