Marijuana and Its Energy Efficiency Crisis

When it comes to creating and implementing marijuana regulations for marijuana businesses, most state regulators focus on satisfying the eight federal enforcement priorities set forth in the 2013 Cole Memo. Their overriding goal is to create regulations “robust” enough to keep the federal government from intruding upon their state’s democratic experiment with marijuana. This has meant energy usage has been mostly ignored.

Until now.

As the legalization movement picks up across the United States, state and local regulators are increasingly delving into marijuana business energy consumption and how to handle the cost and provisioning of utilities to these businesses. We wrote about utilities and cannabis in the context of what happens if the Feds literally pull the plug or turn off the spigot for federally regulated utilities and on how a county in Washington State planned to continue providing electricity to marijuana businesses even if the federal government were to cut the power.

This post, however, is about how our federal laws make it difficult for marijuana businesses to be energy efficient, and by doing so, hurt those businesses, their surrounding communities and the environment.

Energy consumption by cannabis businesses is becoming a problem in some locales:

Earlier this month . . . Pacific Power experienced 7 localized outages due to demand overloads attributed to marijuana grow operations. And this week, a Seattle utility warned of a potential 3% load growth in coming months — just from marijuana operations. Earlier this year, we reported that 45% of Denver, Colorado’s load growth was coming from cannabis growing operations. Many utilities, due either to ideological aversion to the industry or fear of running afoul of the federal government, have taken a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to handling marijuana-related load growth.

This sort of head in the sand approach is waning as marijuana industry expansion is all but forcing serious debate over how states and municipalities should allocate electricity, water, and energy to marijuana businesses that are producing an indisputably energy-intensive crop.

Indoor grows, no matter their size, can consume large amounts of energy. We are aware of one large state-legal indoor grow that reportedly pays around a million dollars a month on its electricity bill. Though you would think that the cannabis industry would attract utility companies wanting to help marijuana businesses be more efficient with their power usage, that generally has not been the case. Part of the reason why is because the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a federally-owned transmission and generation utility, would normally be the platform through which utilities would run efficiency and market transformation programs for cannabis production but, because of federal cannabis prohibition, the BPA has stayed far away from cannabis. Federal drug laws also preclude the BPA from providing any financial incentives to make marijuana businesses more energy efficient.

The federal government’s hands off approach has led some utilities to charge a premium for the energy they provide to marijuana businesses. Most utilities charge marijuana businesses the same as their other customers, but make no real effort to work with them in resolving their special needs. Neither of these approaches do much at all to increase energy efficiency, which is a shame as the industry is only going to continue to expand.

3 responses to “Marijuana and Its Energy Efficiency Crisis”

  1. It’s possible that as marijuana grows as a business and stigmas about the drug begin to dissipate, more people will be willing to help contribute to figuring out a way to make growing cannabis more energy efficient. Though this has been a battle going on for years, making marijuana mainstream still makes people upset and possibly less willing to help benefit the business it’s becoming.

  2. Indoor growing will NEVER compete with greenhouse and outdoor growing energy wise… Some would argue that done biodynamically, quality is unbeatable as well.

    Before the unconstitutional, fraudulently instituted prohibition of 1937, I don’t think anyone would have ever even considered growing indoors under electrically powered lighting…

    So essentially, at it’s core, this energy intensive indoor growing is yet ONE MORE highly negative artifact of prohibition being blamed on the plant and it’s users… By the prohibitionists themselves.

    • But no way can an outdoor grow run all year long, and then there is the mold problem with botritus being the biggest culprit. SO here’s the answer in my opinion, 5000 indoor/20,000, sqft outdoors, with artificial lighting and artificial night time cycles, that’s 25,000 sqft. I think I would be happy with that number, and so would a lot of other people as employees. I would have to really seek out the right company for the design, and layout and building code all factored in. And so I have. All Hydroponic too. No soil means no bugs, molds, fungi. Hydro can out produce, and equal all so called “organic” products. Healthy plants don’t attract mites. And the popular term organic produce derives it’s name from organic chemistry, and any year one if not week one student of organic chemistry would tell you it only means that which contains carbon, and all life on earth is based on carbon, if they had said “produce grown without pesticides”, they would have been more truthful. The term is meant for some reason to promote the produce as more healthful, so they can charge more for it, it was always a marketing ploy. Just as is the GMO thing, we have always altered many commonly raised farm animals and plants, through selective breeding, not by instant gene splicing. This is a slower process, but it works, it works well enough to feed the planet so far….but….

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