Curbing the Marijuana Industry’s Voracious Energy Appetite

Article by Gina Warren, UPI

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Indoor marijuana cultivation is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the United States, generating nearly $6 billion in energy costs annually. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which carries out energy planning for the Columbia River Basin states (Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon), growing marijuana indoors consumes up to 5,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per kilogram of output. For comparison, aluminum production requires about 16 kilowatt-hours per kilogram.

Colorado’s experience demonstrates marijuana’s large energy footprint. Since the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, the industry has expanded rapidly there. In 2015 legal marijuana businesses in Colorado made nearly $1 billion in sales, up 42 percent from the previous year. And as marijuana businesses become more competitive and specialized, growers are moving their farms indoors to get a more controlled product.

Indoor cultivation requires electricity to power high-intensity lights, frequent air exchanges and ventilation and to maintain consistent temperatures and humidity levels day and night. As a result, the state has numerous indoor warehouses that consume huge quantities of electricity.

Experts estimate that a 5,000-square-foot indoor marijuana facility in Colorado consumes six times more electricity per square foot than an average commercial business and 49 times more than an average residence. Last year Denver officialssought guidance from the Department of Energy on ways to curb the industry’s power requirements. Electricity use in Denver is rising by 1.2 percent yearly, and marijuana farms account for nearly half of the increase.

Colorado has set a goal of generating 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Currently, however, only 18 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources. The rest is generated from coal and natural gas.

On-site generation systems, such as rooftop solar arrays, and community-scale energy projects cannot produce enough electricity to meet marijuana growers’ energy needs. As a result, the marijuana industry is indirectly increasing Colorado’s reliance on fossil fuel.

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