Growers should strive to use clean energy in dirty cannabis industry

By Bridget Hill-Zayat

The cannabis industry is dirty.

Despite their reputation, medical marijuana growers are not hippies or tree-huggers. Quite the opposite. They are entrepreneurs entering an energy-intensive industry.

A recent Humboldt State University report found marijuana growers in Humboldt County, CA (using legal grid energy) create around 40,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, as much as 7,000 cars.

Energy consumption is something about which applicants for grower/processor licenses for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program should be very thoughtful.

Why does growing marijuana use so much energy?

Regulations reflecting security concerns – keeping thieves out of the grow houses- and Pennsylvania winters require cannabis be grown indoors and under lights. The lights require massive amounts of energy to function. In turn, the lights heat up the grow rooms requiring air conditioning to prevent the lights from cooking the plants.

Why don’t growers use energy efficient lights or build more sustainable grow houses?

Because getting into the medical marijuana game is pricey. Really pricey. The high cost of entry into the legal marijuana market dis-incentivizes participants from investing in sustainable infrastructure and improvements. Even though, ultimately, those measures will pay for themselves. To obtain a grower/processor license in Pennsylvania applicants must have $2.2M.

That amount does not take into consideration the rent or mortgage for the facility nor does it account for the cost of construction to get the building compliant with fire, zoning and safety regulations. Growers need to hire, plumbers, electricians, construction, HVAC, and security service providers. They will spend millions of dollars before one flower blooms on a single plant. Environmental concerns are subsidiary.

What can growers/ dispensaries do?

Growers who can produce a consistent quality and quantity of product will be the most successful and will keep the cannabis business viable. That said, there are easy and relatively cheap measures they can take to reduce their impact:

-monitor their energy consumption at the circuit level to optimize how HVAC lighting etc. interacts LED lights with spectrum tailored to cannabis.
-conduct energy audits of the facility.
-buy Renewable Energy Credits – a REC is the right to the environmental, social and other non-power attributes of renewable energy. When a wind turbine creates energy that energy goes onto the grid like energy produced by coal or by a nuclear plant. The grid does not distinguish between “green” or “dirty” energy. Buying RECs creates a demand for clean energy.
-Pennsylvania has a deregulated energy supply market. Pennsylvania residents can choose who they buy energy from (it doesn’t have to be the utility). Growers can enroll with renewable suppliers.

What can you do about it?

Cannabis consumers need to demand sustainably-raised product. A 3,400 square foot grow facility (a small scale operation) will use about 85-90,000 kilowatt hours a month in energy. According to the EPA, growers will produce and release about 1,087,600 pounds of CO2 a month, or 6,525.6 Tons of CO2 a year. Think of a CO2 cube the size of a two story house. Make sustainability part of your consideration when you purchase. Ask if the grower uses renewable, growing techniques. Make it clear to the dispensary this is something you care about.

Bridget Hill-Zayat, Esq. is an attorney in the East Coast cannabis industries. She has worked with Pennsylvania State Sen. Daylin Leach to help develop standards for cannabis regulations in PA. Bridget testified before Philadelphia City Council on how the city can increase energy efficiency to help foster the medical cannabis market thrive. She also hosts events with the National Cannabis Bar Association.

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