Power-Hungry Pot Industry Has Utilities Flummoxed

August 12, 2014 By Karen Henry

mj bud-energy-manageWashington state and Colorado are home to one of the most power-intensive industries to emerge since the data center—legalized marijuana farming. One out of every 200 W of electricity sold in Colorado is being used to fuel marijuana grow operations, according to an article from E&E Publishing’s EnergyWire. Since voters approved the production and sale of marijuana for recreational use two years ago, Washington state has issued licenses for the cultivation of just over one million square feet of land—more than half of which will be used to house indoor grow facilities.

Indeed, the majority of marijuana grow operations are indoors, and their energy needs are increasing. Colorado marijuana growers account for an estimated ½ to 1 percent of Xcel Energy’s total annual electric sales. Washington state marijuana growers gobble up just over 1.5 percent of the state’s electricity. The Lighting Science Group, a maker of LED bulbs for the marijuana industry, projected that Washington would save over 900 GWh of electricity annually if it changed from the standard high-intensity lights to LEDs.

Efficient and cool LEDs seem to be the industry’s best option for lowering its power bill, but there are numerous obstacles in the way of their widespread adoption. Trying to navigate state law within the boundaries of federal law in these two states has proven difficult at best. Utilities and energy officials are hesitant to offer energy-efficiency incentives for fear of endangering federal grants or electricity deliveries from federal hydroelectric dams.

Investor-owned utilities, which fund energy-efficiency rebates from customer fees rather than from the government, are not bound by such complications and are already offering rebates to marijuana growers, but the upfront investment to make the switch to LEDs has proven a barrier for farmers, especially since there aren’t any LEDs that are designed for the specific needs of cannabis growers. And even if there were, no standards exist for marijuana grow lights—or any kind of horticultural lights for that matter.

Standards are coming, however. D&R International has begun to develop metric for LED lights for plants and other agricultural uses.

Photo via Shutterstock.

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