Electricity thieves cost utilities billions of dollars each year, and marijuana growers are some of the biggest culprits.
Awesense, a Vancouver-based company that provides sensors and software to detect energy theft, has found that marijuana growers are heavy energy consumers because they use special energy-hogging lights to make their crops grow faster indoors.
“Electricity is one of the biggest costs for a marijuana-grow facility,” said Doug Bunker, VP of channels and alliances for Awesense. “Marijuana grow-ups have been the largest single industry for power theft.”
The first wave of marijuana growers just paid their bill, said Bunker, but then the police could easily find them, so they began tapping into either primary or secondary electricity lines. Awesense has noted that even in locales where marijuana is legal, the growers are just as likely to steal power.
The growers tap into lines that are exposed to the air, or they dig to underground lines, or even tap off an existing panel box (pictured). A single grower might steal $5,000 of electricity a year, but an organized ring could steal as much as $400,000 of electricity per year.
Utilities can provide their investigation teams with Awesense’s products to “scrub their grid” on a regular basis or place the monitors in areas where they suspect electricity theft. Also, utilities sometimes get inquiries from cutomers to inspect the accuracy of meters. Awesense’s monitors can compare the actual electricity usage of a business with its utility bill.