The $3.5bn cannabis industry is one of the nation’s most energy intensive, often demanding 24-hour indoor lighting rigs, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems at multiplying grow sites.
As many as 10 states could legalize recreational marijuana this year, which means the resultant electricity consumption could cause problems for public utilities and city officials.
A study by scientist Evan Mills, with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, revealed that legalized indoor marijuana-growing operations account for 1% of total electricity use in the US, at a cost of $6bn per year. Annually, such consumption produces 15m tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2), equal to that of three million average cars.
In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. Two years later, Denver’s 362 marijuana grow facilities consumed more than 2% of the city’s electricity usage. Statewide facilities are behind roughly half of Colorado’s new power demands.
Cannabis growers are moving slowly toward energy efficient practices, largely out of fear for how changes might affect the quality of their product.
“They approach these things with a great deal of caution, especially when you talk about things that have a crop-wide effect,” said Ron Flax, sustainability examiner for Boulder County, Colorado.
“Each crop cycle has a lot of dollars associated with it, so they’re really hesitant to try something new and hope it works.”
“But they’re also paying very high utility bills.
Flax said electricity represented roughly 20% of the total cost of a cannabis operation.
In Boulder County during the second quarter of 2015, a 5,000 square foot indoor cannabis facility was eating about 29,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity monthly. A local household in the county was consuming about 630kWh.
Given cannabis’ appetite for energy – coupled with Colorado’s mostly coal-fired power plants – Boulder County has required commercial cannabis growers to either offset their electricity use with renewable energy, or pay a 2c charge per kWh.
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