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Some cities try going 'green' with blackouts

On Saturday evening, it's "Lights out San Francisco," where people will voluntary turn off lights for an hour. The aim is to raise awareness of light pollution and the energy wasted by lights left on.

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It's lights out come 8 p.m. Saturday for the TransAmerica pyramid, the Golden Gate Bridge, and businesses and dwellings across San Francisco.

Citizens plan to shut off nonessential lighting for an hour in the name of conservation – and community. Restaurants will serve dinner by candlelight, astronomy buffs will be out with their scopes, and musicians will rock out on power from a biodiesel bus.

If participants are expecting a total blackout or a quick fix for global warming, they might have to settle instead for a free energy-efficient light bulb and an event T-shirt that reads: "Good things happen in the dark."

"Our expectations in terms of actual energy savings are not as high as our expectation in terms of just communicating how easy it is to do something very simple," says Nathan Tyler, who's bringing the idea to San Francisco and Los Angeles – and eventually nationwide.

For anyone who has wondered about the wastefulness of the bright lights in big cities, it turns out that some simple fixes do work. US skylines, particularly in California, have become "greener" in recent years with the help of new technologies, tighter regulations, and simple changes in behavior.

"If you look at the San Francisco skyline at night, it's a whole lot darker than it used to be," says Ken Cleveland, director of government public affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) here. "Some people in the past would have lighting on their buildings at night as part of their signature, [but] times are changing."

Many buildings now have installed motion sensors to shut lights off automatically, often with the help of money paid into a fund by electricity customers.

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