Solar, efficiency can help mitigate energy use from marijuana cultivation

EQ Research is a relatively dry firm that provides research and analysis of national and state energy policies, an inherently wonky field. However, their latest report takes aim at the intersection of a hot social issue in the United States – increased indoor marijuana growing due to legalization at the state level – and energy.

And despite the levity of the title, A Chronic Problem: Taming Energy Costs and Impacts from Marijuana Cultivation describes a serious issue for energy and greenhouse gas emissions. Due to the use of high-wattage lights and other equipment, indoor marijuana cultivation can have an energy intensity of 2,000 watts per square meter.

This is roughly the same energy impact as data centers, which are 50-200 times as energy-intensive as a typical office.

This impact is multiplied by the growth of the industry. Four states have legalized recreational marijuana and another 21 medical marijuana. 1,358 licenses have been issued for cultivation in Colorado alone, and marijuana cultivation represented 2.2% of the electricity consumption in Denver in 2014.

EQ Research finds several barriers to cleaner, more efficient use of energy by the marijuana industry. First, it states that utilities and state regulators lack information about how the industry uses energy, and that the industry may lack the savvy to engage public utility commissions. The firm also notes the high cost of capital for marijuana businesses limits the ability of these businesses to access solar and energy efficiency. Finally, EQ Research notes a conflict between bringing down energy costs and maximizing crop yield and potency.

There is also the issue that while several states have legalized marijuana, that it remains illegal on a federal level.

“The nature of the marijuana industry, which is both new and traditionally illegal, creates barriers in sharing information that lead to inefficient energy consumption,” notes the report.

“Organizations that may traditionally have a role in certifying equipment for efficiency and safety, or offering industry-specific energy guidance, may be barred (in the case of national laboratories) or limited by policy (in the case of other certification organizations) from providing that function to the marijuana industry.”

In A Chronic Problem EQ Research has issued recommendations to utilities, regulators, state and local government and the marijuana industry, including recommendation that utilities offer energy efficiency rebates and services tailored to marijuana growers.

The report also recommends that utilities change provisions in demand charge “ratchets” for commercial and industrial users. EQ Research argues that this practice can disincentize the use of rooftop solar, battery storage and energy efficiency, as these structures are based on historical energy use

There is also the mandatory option. The report cites a requirement in both the city and county of Boulder, Colorado, under which marijuana growers must offset their energy use with either purchase of carbon offsets, membership in a community solar garden, or on-site renewable energy.