In 2015, when vaping is out and Marley Natural Weed is in, the largely unrecognized and surging use of electricity associated with marijuana must be considered. 

Indoor marijuana growing operations accounted for over 1% of all electric consumption in the U.S., according to a 2011 study by Evan Mills, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher. In California, marijuana production accounted for about 3% of electric use, according to the study. The methodology of the study, self-recognizing the difficulties in tracking an activity that was illegal, only considers the indoor cultivation of cannabis, which is a small segment of what is the nation’s largest crop by value. 

The growth since the data gathering for 2011 study has been significant with marijuana legalized for recreational use in four states and medicinal use in 19 states.

Energy use at the reported magnitudes is very real, and the growth since 2011, when combined with the expected growth of electricity demand in this fast growing sector confounds energy forecasts and risks obscuring savings from energy efficiency policies and programs.

Although non legal marijuana growing is hard to calculate, the association with high energy use has been accepted for decades. A sharp increase in electrical use in a house has been used by police as probable cause to issue a search warrant for illegal marijuana cultivation.  On a square foot basis, the energy used in marijuana cultivation facilities exceeds that of hospitals and data centers. 

Print media accounts in Colorado have estimated that electricity costs are now 50% of the wholesale cost of the emergent industry of indoor cannabis production.

Boulder County, Colorado has responded with a regulatory requirement that each Medical Marijuana Optional Premises Cultivation or a Retail Marijuana Cultivation Facility must “directly offset 100% of the electricity consumption through a verified subscription in a Community Solar Garden, renewable energy generated on site, or equivalent.”

The local Colorado electricity utility, Xcel Energy expects to roll out a rebate program for the marijuana growers by early summer, according to Gabriel Romero, the utility spokesperson. Xcel is already offering rebates on a case-by case basis using existing lighting incentive programs, but the new rebate will encourage growers to replace their older lighting equipment with more efficient LEDs and the like.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, considering the impact of legalized cannabis production in Washington State, and based on new hard data from Colorado, estimates an increase in future electricity demand of over 160 megawatts. As other states implement newly enacted Marijuana laws and more states consider decriminalizing pot or legalizing it for medical or recreational use, it is clear that energy use in this sector will increase dramatically.

The impact of the emergent legal cannabis industry is widespread, including that among the most read of my blog posts last year was, Marijuana Smoking is Allowed in LEED Buildings.

Noting that growing pot is today not very green, an article in the Portland Business Journal last week anticipated the increase in energy use by Oregon’s new recreational marijuana industry asked, “is it time for LEED weed?”