How Much Electricity Does It Take To Grow Marijuana? Colorado Cities Are Finding Out

Colorado’s appetite for lighting up requires a lot of lights, it turns out.Licensed marijuana growers traditionally cultivate their products indoors under very bright lights that suck a lot of electricity. With the release of the federal government’s Clean Power Plan looming, cities across the state are working to reduce their carbon footprint. Part of those efforts include persuading grows to reduce their power consumption.

Between 2012 and 2013, the latest data available, electricity use increased by 1.2 percent across the city and county of Denver. Commercial marijuana grows were responsible for nearly half of that uptick.

“We’re very keen to see what is increasing energy use, and to have half of that coming from the grow industry is definitely something we pay attention to,” said Sonrisa Lucero, a strategist for the Denver’s Office of Sustainability.

Denver marijuana grows used just 1.85 percent of the city’s overall electricity in 2013. But any uptick matters because the city set a voluntary goal to prevent total energy consumed from rising past its 2012 use levels. Lucero’s job is to make sure that energy efficiency is top of mind for new residents and businesses.

The city is working with marijuana grow operations to lower their electricity use. Or the industry may sort itself out: A growing number of outdoor and greenhouse grow operations in Colorado are emerging that could make indoor grows obsolete — or at least, less cost effective.

A $12,000 electricity bill

Colorado Harvest Company’s Flower Room No. 1 holds dozens of green plants thriving underneath 22 1,000-watt lamps.

(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)

To understand just how much energy it takes to grow marijuana indoors, look no further than Colorado Harvest Company’s Flower Room No. 1.The room has dozens of green plants thriving underneath 22 1,000-watt lamps hanging from the ceiling. Each is the size of a small card table. An air-conditioning system prevents the lights from overheating.

“Running a cannabis company with indoor production means that you’re going to use more than your fair share of electricity,” said Tim Cullen, the company’s owner.

Cullen’s monthly electricity bill for the 10,000-square-foot warehouse runs a cool $12,000. Another marijuana grow reports spending nearly twice that amount. Cullen said he’s tried to reduce electricity use by using LED lights currently on the market, but they haven’t produced the results he needs.

“We just can’t suffer the losses of having a lower energy bill, but then not producing flowers,” he said.

Tim Cullen, the owner of the Colorado Harvest Company, stands in his grow facility in Denver on Wednesday, July 8, 2015.

(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)

New LED technology under production could change this picture. But Cullen isn’t waiting for that to happen. Instead he’s building a greenhouse in Denver to commercially grow marijuana. From start to finish, the planning and construction is expected to take about six months.

Greenhouses blooming in Pueblo

Denver has about four commercial marijuana grow greenhouses. But Pueblo is leading the charge in the state, with 16 and counting. Some are small, but others cover as many as 50 acres.

Chris Markuson, director of economic development and GIS for Pueblo County, said shifting priorities are changing how and where marijuana is grown.

“At first the assumption was that the grow operations had to be tightly secured and hidden from public view,” he said. “Because the temperament of the community–and the society as a whole–has come around a little bit, the grow operations are not really seen with negative light. At least they’re not in Pueblo.”

It helps that Pueblo has marketed itself as a business-friendly lower-cost location to cultivate marijuana.

With about 30 marijuana grow businesses overall, Markuson said the majority are using “Pueblo sunshine” to grow product.

Energy use in the area is evolving with the industry. According to Black Hills Energy, which provides power to the city of Pueblo and parts of Pueblo County, 10 grow facilities used 2.1 million kWh in 2014. That’s 0.1 percent of the energy that Black Hills delivered to its Pueblo coverage area.

Laying the groundwork

As the marijuana industry evolves, Colorado cities are deciding how–or if–they want to manage the growing energy demands from the industry.

Denver isn’t considering regulations for the marijuana industry, but pushing LED lights to grows. In Boulder, the city and county are setting measures to require businesses offset their electricity use via subscription of renewable energy credits — things like community solar garden memberships.

Xcel is reportedly working with marijuana growers to update lighting so they’re as energy efficient as possible.

The attempts by utilities and cities fit into a larger movement under way right now, said Howard Geller with Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

“We can have that economic growth without electricity use increasing,” he said. “That’s going to be beneficial economically and that will help us achieve our environmental goals.”

Denver and Boulder’s work with marijuana and other businesses could be a good warm-up lap for what’s to come. The Clean Power Plan rule, expected to be finalized later this summer, will put even more pressure on states to reduce carbon emissions. Some of that reduction will come from changing where our power comes from. But Geller expects another significant portion to come from things like switching out the lightbulbs.

“Energy efficiency is a strategy that can be implemented very quickly in terms of ramping up rebate and financing programs, education efforts,” said Geller. “Whereas building new power plants–or retrofitting old power plants–that kind of initiative will take years to implement.”

This article was originally published on July 10 2015 by BY GRACE HOOD of Colorado Public Radio

Coal Country: EPA Plan Is Short Term Boost, No Solution For Industry Decline

The Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant in Gillette, Wyo., supplies electricity across the West.

When a business invests in a outdated or inefficient product it loses money. If it doesn’t change it’s business practices it will go bankrupt or shut down. Why? Because something better and more cost effective has come along to replace it. More often than not, changes in markets are due to lower cost options. Coal is a necessity now because it provides “base load power” on a consistent, predictable basis. The replacement to coal is battery storage powered by renewable resources like the sun, wind or ocean tides.  This current change by the Trump administration to lower clean energy requirements on utilities is fruitless and bad leadership. It’s clear that this administration doesn’t make decisions based on the reality of economics and sound business practices.  If they did, they would carry momentum of leaders before them by creating incentives to invest in clean energy in places that are high coal producers. That would create long term jobs, improved grid infrastructure and energy competitiveness on the international scale. Other countries like China are becoming industry titans in the global marketplace in renewable energy.


The remainder of this article was originally published on  August 27, 20184:57 AM ET on the Heard on Morning Edition by COOPER MCKIMFROMWyoming Public Radio

The Trump’s administration’s proposal to relax regulations on carbon emissions is welcome news in coal producing states like Wyoming, even as people in the industry acknowledge its impact would be limited.

“Coal fired power plants are a necessity to keep the… electricity grid stable in America,” says Tom Stalcup, plant manager at the Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant in Gillette. Large open-pit mines dot the plant’s perimeter, and the light-blue building rumbles as electricity flows to states across the West.

Like many here — where the coal industry produces nearly a quarter of the state’s income — Stalcup worried the Obama-era Clean Power Plan would have forced plants to close. It set targets for states to reduce carbon emissions, and aimed to remake the power grid with a large-scale shift away from coal to renewable power like wind and solar. Two dozen states, including Wyoming, challenged the Clean Power Plan as exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority, and a court held up the rule before it could take effect.

The Trump administration’s new proposal, called the Affordable Clean Energy rule, would give states more power to regulate carbon emissions. It doesn’t set any cap for emissions, but simply suggests ways that individual plants could become more efficient. In Wyoming, that’s providing new hope that some coal plants might stay open longer.

“It’ll keep some of the plants on,” manager Stalcup says. “I don’t know as if it will keep all of them on.”

One technical tweak that could make a difference is a change in what’s called New Source Review. It was meant to make sure that as coal plants expand or retrofit, they also install the latest, most effective pollution controls. But that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Trump administration wants to relax this, allowing plants to make minor emissions control changes without having to do a full, bank-breaking environmental upgrade.

“It maybe creates a little bit more of an incentive to invest in some coal-fired power plants, to keep them open a little longer than they might have been otherwise,” says Rob Godby, of the University of Wyoming Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy.

Environmental groups point out this would be bad for public health, as it would increase air pollution from coal plants. In fact, those plants most likely to benefit from the change are some of the country’s oldest, and dirtiest. The E.P.A.’s own projection finds that its new proposal would mean up to 1,400 more premature deaths every year, 48,000 new cases of “exacerbated asthma,” and at least 21,000 more missed days of school.

The economic reality of coal’s decline

But energy analyst Godby says it would only make sense to extend the life of “a very small number” of plants, because coal’s real problem is economic.

“Coal fired power plants have to compete directly with [cheaper] natural gas plants and renewables, where they’re already losing,” he says. “This plan really isn’t going to affect that.”

Over the past decade, coal’s share of the country’s energy mix has dropped from just over half to about a third. According to S & P Global Market Intelligence, utilities plan to close about three dozen more coal units by 2020, and many say they don’t expect that to change despite the new proposal.

Cloud Peak Energy, the country’s third largest coal producer, welcomes the regulatory rollback. But Rick Curtsinger, director of public affairs, says more could still be done to protect the coal industry. He says the company would even like to see Congress step in, with legislation “that gives long-term certainty to utilities to make the 20 and 30 year investments necessary.”

It’s not clear what, exactly, that would mean. But the Trump administration has repeatedly raised the idea of subsidizing struggling coal and nuclear plants.

The administration’s Affordable Clean Energy proposal is open for public comment. If it takes effect, environmental groups and some states are threatening a legal challenge.

Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King says the plan would really be just a short-term boost. What’s more, she says, regulation of carbon emissions could be stepped up again after the next presidential election.

“It’s that uncertainty that’s tough on people and the industry,” she says.

Utilities are also mindful of that uncertainty, another reason President Trump’s latest lifeline to the coal industry may not change much.


%d bloggers like this: