Legal recreational marijuana will become a reality in Oregon on July 1.
That's expected to create new market opportunities for large-scale indoor marijuana producers who rely on powerful grow lights.
“They’re energy hogs. They use an ungodly amount of electricity,” says Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner.
Kanner is just one Oregon official considering how these electricity-guzzling operations will effect local power supplies. They don't have to look far for clues. Neighboring Washington state, along with Colorado, legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. Both states are trying to find ways to deal with spiking electricity consumption by indoor pot-growing operations.
The Southern Oregon town of Ashland has some of the lowest electricity rates in the region, which could make it attractive to the burgeoning industry.
Ashland's electric utility buys its energy on the wholesale market from Bonneville Power Administration. As long as Ashland's demand for electricity remains below a certain level, the utility can buy the power at a lower rate.
But the city is hovering right below that line. A major bump in power use would mean a higher price rate would kick in. Kanner says that would drive up costs for every customer.
“If we wind up having to pay higher rates because of a large-scale indoor commercial marijuana grow, who should be responsible for that?” he asks.
Kanner said the increase would likely be modest. And even without any indoor pot operators moving into town, Ashland's overall demand is likely increase enough to put it into a higher electricity-rate bracket.
Although Washington is two years ahead of Oregon in dealing with the power demands created by pot cultivation, that doesn't mean things have leveled off there.
A recent report by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimates the electricity needs for indoor pot production in Washington, Idaho and Oregon will more than double in the next 20 years.
Local utilities all over the Northwest are looking for ways to minimize potential impacts of the industry. One option is to charge the marijuana producers more for their electricity.
Another solution, which Kanner is championing, is for Oregon to add an energy efficiency standard for indoor agriculture and then encourage producers to go even further.
“This is what we’ve done with many other types of industries – we give them incentives to be energy efficient,” he says.
Power-conserving pot growing was an idea taken up last month in Portland at an Oregon Environmental Business Council event. One of the speakers said it would take a change in attitude among indoor pot growers before they can be expected to take up the conservation cause.
“Utilities are perfectly set up to work with the growers and produce energy efficient product,” said John Morris, policy and regulatory affairs director for the energy-efficiency consulting firm CLEAResult. “Utilities know how to do this. But we have a history of growers stealing power, and there’s this sense of I just need to pay the bill, I don’t want to talk to you. So, there’s a paradigm shift that needs to happen.”