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Energy | Environment

Indoor Marijuana Growers Create Big Demand For Northwest Energy

An indoor medical marijuana growing facility in Oakland, California.

An indoor medical marijuana growing facility in Oakland, California.

Flickr/Rusty Blazenhoff

Power planners are studying how much indoor marijuana growing could increase the region’s electricity demands in the near future.

The study is being conducted by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Researchers say they need to know how much energy is being used by Washington’s licensed indoor cannabis producers — and how much that usage will increase as pot production expands.

The study’s preliminary results show power demand increasing by up to 160 Megawatts over the next twenty years because of indoor cannabis production. That’s roughly equivalent to the power usage of a town of 60,000 people. The electricity is used to power energy-intensive lighting, heating and cooling equipment.

The state has started licensing marijuana growing operations after the 2012 election, when Washington voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana use and production. Oregon voters will consider a similar proposal on the ballot this fall.

Tom Eckman is the power planning director at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. He says the Council needs to know when and where new demands on the regional power supply will come from.

“We’re not taking a position one way or another,” Eckman said. “It’s just, we’ve got to be able to keep the power on for people who have legal operations of anything, whether it’s data centers or cannabis production.”

Massoud Jourabchi is a manager of economic analysis at the council and head researcher on the study. He said many of the study’s participants are drawn to more energy-intensive indoor cultivation because it allows producers a heightened degree of control over the growing process.

“The whole notion of cycles goes away. It becomes more of a manufacturing process where you can have plants at different stages of their growth throughout the year,” he said.

Jourabchi and his colleagues are also exploring ways in which pot production could be made to be more energy efficient as the industry expands. That could lead to a campaign asking growers to transition to energy saving light bulbs, or even to start growing more of their products in greenhouses.

Eckman will present the preliminary results of the study on Tuesday. Researchers are also assessing the power demands of data centers operated by companies like Google and of charging stations for electric cars.

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