Green Energy: The Electric Cost of Growing Marijuana

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Washington state produces a lot of weed. Since voters opted to legalize recreational cannabis in 2012, more growers than ever are producing high-quality marijuana with cutting-edge technology and equipment. While most of the attention has been focused on the products themselves, the spotlight is now turned to the amount of energy necessary for growing marijuana.

A Fair Share?

Concern is rising about the energy cost associated with the legal marijuana industry. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is an organization that advocates for clean energy and provides supervision on power issues for Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Their estimates place the total percentage of electricity used by grow operations in Washington between 0.75% and 0.96%. As it stands, Seattle grow operations currently account for 0.3% of the city’s total electricity consumption; and if all licensed producers were operating at full capacity, that number would jump to 0.5%

In total, this measures out to about 100 megawatts of electricity used up every year. Throw in the consumption of Oregon growers, as well as the extra energy costs incurred in bitter cold winters and sweltering summers, and the total impact on the Northwest’s power load can be more substantial than you’d think, at about 600 megawatts. It’s not clear whether this is a meaningful level of depletion, but it’s enough that some organizations and advocacy groups are calling for growers to cut down on their electricity intake. The problem is, growing marijuana takes a lot of energy.

Where Does the Energy End Up?

If you want to get the most out of a marijuana plant, you need to hit the lights. And the industry standard is currently High Intensity Discharge (HID) grow lights. The most common are metal halide and high-pressure sodium lights, and they consume energy in the range of 1,000 watts each. These lamps are favored because their infrared light actually helps plants grow faster.

On the other hand, grow ops can spend anywhere from 15-25% of their money on keeping those lights on, so there’s definitely an incentive to find a less costly solution.

Going Clean & Green

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For those who feel it’s worth it to take a different approach, there’s Clean Green Certified. They’re the leading certifier for sustainable and naturally grown cannabis nationwide, and a large part of their platform is only issuing certifications to growers who follow environmentally friendly practices. This involves everything from having legal water sources and runoff barriers (to avoiding all synthetic pest control) to using alternative, efficient sources of electricity.

A Clean Green Certification requires a high level of compliance, but can be worth it for growers, since consumers are often willing to pay a premium for a product they know to be sourced responsibly. The federal government doesn’t currently recognize cannabis as a legitimate crop, and so it can’t be labeled as “organic, but a Clean Green Certification is as close as you can get to that designation.

As the market for legal weed continues to expand, many eyes will be watching to see how producers amend their approach to growing marijuana. For now, HID lamps are the energy source of choice, but as LED lights are continually improved, we may see a shift in preference thanks to their relatively low energy consumption.

Article by: Spencer Grey