KENAI -- The Klimpkes' Christmas lights are so extravagant that oil platform workers see them as they fly over in helicopters and a Coho-based pilot uses them as a waypoint on his approach home.
"I quit counting when I counted 23,000 lights," John Klimpke said. "It's like miles and miles of extension cords."
This December will be the seventh year John and Brenda Klimpke have set out their holiday decorations, and he said it will be the seventh year of traffic backing up for miles along North Miller Loop Road and the Spur Highway with locals, tourists and buses of children all waiting to see the display.
The Klimpkes live on Blueberry Avenue, off North Miller Loop Road in Nikiski, and John Klimpke has fitted his family's property with bright red and green arches for visitors to drive through, a wall of floats along the driveway and an 8-foot-tall Styrofoam igloo strung with white lights and with an animated seal wearing a blue cap. And there is more.
John Klimpke, 53, said he has spent thousands of dollars for supplies to build and buy his decorations.
"My Ferris wheel must have cost me about $600 to $800," he said. It spins and glows and is as tall as their house.
He said they spend about $1,200 to $1,400 in electric bills for the month in which their decorations are in operation.
One year, he said, Homer Electric Association called them, suspicious of their high electricity usage -- an indicator at other locations of a special greenhouse crop. Another year, they bought several adjacent parcels of land to expand. Because they were using so much electricity, they had to install another meter on the parcels and now they pay about $420 a year to keep the power running for that one month.
"I do it for the kids," John Klimpke said. "This little girl hollered out the window (this one time), 'Thank you.' That's it right there. If the kids are happy."
Brenda Klimpke, 52, said their decorations are also for the adults.
"There's a couple cancer patients' families that I know from work and I go, 'You ought to bring your family members out here to see it,' " she said. It's a wonderful experience for them, she added.
But it is not just the Klimpkes who run up their electricity bill in December. Many others do as well, said Lupine M. Orlob, a 32-year-old Kenai resident who spends all summer combing yard sales for good deals on Christmas decorations.
Orlob said she has spent more than $1,000 buying decorations and, during December, nearly all her outlets are plugged with extension cords. She said she blows through breakers.
This year Kenai and Nikiski are holding holiday decorating contests. Orlob won last year in Kenai, and the Klimpkes won in Nikiski. Soldotna held a contest last year, but will not this year.
The contest winners receive "HEA energy bucks" that offset some the high energy bills for the month. But, for the Klimpkes and Orlobs in the community, that only covers a small slice of their bills.
"It's a dent, but that's not why I do it," Orlob said. "If it makes me as happy as I feel, imagine what it does to others."
Despite so many residents plugging in for the holidays, HEA spokesman Joe Gallagher said the Kenai Peninsula does not see a spike in energy usage for lights.
"I think, personally, it makes the whole area look great when everybody's lighting up," he said.
This year John Klimpke wants to add two reindeer to his decorations. He said two live reindeer would go nicely next to Santa.
" 'Think of it this way,' " he said a breeder in Palmer told him, " 'you get three reindeer for the price of two.' "
But a live male and female reindeer would cost him $2,500, he said, so he's considering renting locally.
By DAN SCHWARTZ