Pubdate: Sat, 05 Feb 2005
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2005 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Paul Egan
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Cost Of Stolen Electricity Much Lower Than Thought

The electricity stolen from Manitoba Hydro by illegal marijuana grow
operations may not be as substantial as some have thought, an internal
review by the utility suggests.

Marijuana grow operators may be breaking the law, but many of them do
pay their electric bills, Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider

Using information on grow op busts in 2004 supplied by Winnipeg police
and the RCMP, Hydro calculated that it lost electricity worth about
$300,000 to 38 Manitoba grow ops last year.

The 38 busted grow ops that were either stealing electricity by
bypassing Hydro meters or simply not paying their bills is well below
the total number of grow ops that were busted.

In 2003, for example, Winnipeg police busted 108 suspected grow ops,
mostly set up using special lamps inside residential homes, Const.
Shelly Glover said. The 2002 number for Winnipeg was 82. Figures from
the RCMP and Winnipeg figures for 2004 were not available.

Still, the actual value of electricity lost to grow operators is
believed to be much higher than $300,000. That figure only represents
the hydro thieves the utility knows about as a result of police busts.
The cost of the stolen electricity is ultimately passed on to other
customers through increased rates, though the relatively small dollar
amount likely means the impact is imperceptible, Schneider said.

Hydro has taken the position that it is prohibited by privacy laws and
its own company practices from notifying police when a home shows a
spike in electricity use.

But Manitoba Hydro is holding meetings with provincial Justice
Department officials and re-examining that position, Schneider said.

"Our staff are meeting with the Justice Department people to ensure
that where we can help in this situation, we would like to do so,
without violating any privacy laws and while ensuring some sanctity of
our customers' information," he said.

Manitoba is looking at possible legislative changes to help Hydro and
others assist in detecting and shutting down grow ops, which are
linked to organized crime.

Ontario introduced legislation last fall that would allow Hydro to
disconnect service to suspected grow ops without notice. Another
change in the bill would double penalties for tampering with
electrical wiring.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin