California explores energy impacts of cannabis cultivation
The strain that California’s legalized cannabis industry could place on the state’s power grid came into focus on Tuesday, as marijuana cultivators, energy regulators and utility companies huddled to begin hashing out how to square the state’s clean energy goals with the surge in electricity usage expected to accompany recreational pot.
The California Public Utilities Commission hosted a pair of panel discussions that brought together cannabis and energy industry professionals from California, Oregon, Washington State and Colorado — all of which have moved to legalize recreational marijuana in recent years — to share information and experiences about energy usage and conservation in growing marijuana in their respective states.
PUC President Michael Picker said California lacks “deep data” surrounding how the state’s electrical and water infrastructure might be impacted by the expected spike in marijuana cultivation when recreational pot becomes legal next year.
But he said he expects the PUC to consider “distinct set of (electricity) rates for cannabis to help ensure that electricity consumption in the sector supports our greenhouse gas reduction goals and energy efficiency goals.”
Indoor marijuana cultivation is an energy intensive process that relies on powerful lights, heating and cooling systems, ventilation and other processes to control the growing climate and ensure a more bountiful harvest. As much as 40 percent of new demand on Denver’s power grid has been attributed to cannabis cultivation since Colorado legalized pot in 2012, Picker said.
California is targeting a statewide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
Marijuana cultivators and utility company representatives from Oregon, Washington and Colorado emphasized the importance of creating credit and rebate programs designed to incentivize growers to adopt things like energy-efficient lighting systems to cut down on power usage for indoor grows.
Adam White, a Colorado energy efficiency engineer with Xcel Energy, an electricity and natural gas provider, said energy rebates offered to marijuana have been “critical” to their ability to build businesses sustainably from the outset.
But while indoor growing operations have proliferated in other states, representatives from California’s marijuana cultivation community suggested that the best bet for curbing excessive energy use in this state will come from promoting outdoor grows or greenhouses that use a mixture of electric light and sunlight.
Taking advantage of California’s agriculture-friendly climate to promote open-air or field grows “seems much more efficient and realistic” compared to creating and implementing an energy credit program, said Kristin Nevedal, program director for Americans for Safe Access and a board member at the Cannabis Industry Association.
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, believes that California consumers will be willing to pay more for marijuana they knew was grown sustainably. “Between the mature consumer base we have here, we can establish premium prices for sustainable products,” Allen said. “This is a once-in-a-century opportunity to harness market forces for real positive change.”
Encouraging marijuana cultivators to grow outdoors, however, will require changes to land use laws and local permitting processes that so far have been unfriendly to marijuana growers, said Nick Caston, vice president of public affairs and policy for CannaCraft, a marijuana production distribution company in Santa Rosa.
Last year, for example, Sonoma County officials voted against a proposal that would have allowed small-scale farmers to grow marijuana in rural areas.
“If we’re not allowed to (grow outdoors), indoor is the only option,” Caston said. “We need to not let local municipalities pass land-use ordinances without taking energy issues into account.”