Pubdate: Tue, 17 Jun 2008
Source: Arcata Eye (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Arcata Eye
Author: Kevin L. Hoover, Eye Editor


ARCATA - The ways that marijuana grow houses suck the life out of 
neighborhoods are well documented. What's not readily apparent is the 
amount of electricity they're sucking out of the electrical grid, or 
the impacts that's having on other utility customers and the environment.

As with other public and private institutions affected by Arcata's 
exploding marijuana industry - realtors, landlords, the fire 
department, police and the City - the Pacific Gas & Electric Company 
(PG&E) has been caught unawares by the phenomenon and is behind the 
curve in addressing it.

Unanticipated Consequences

Recent events have highlighted new issues surrounding residential 
grow house energy consumption:

.  A Sunny Brae resident turns on his power saw and his lights dim. 
On calling Pacific Gas & Electric Company's customer service line, 
he's told that "all the grow houses on your block are maxing out the 

Officially, PG&E denies the statement. A PG&E spokesman says that the 
biggest new draw on suburban electrical power has come with the 
advent of home offices, with all their computers and fax machines.

.  Last Thursday, for the second time in two months, a transformer 
fails on Eye Street. PG&E trucks arrive and work through the night, 
restoring power the following morning. Suddenlink Communications and 
AT&T trucks also arrive to repair collateral damage to their lines.

Remarks a resident: "Sure is a lot of manpower and money for repeated 
damage due, no doubt, to the abundance of grow houses drawing power 
up and down the street. The last time this happened, the PG&E guy 
said that's all he does is go around fixing damage caused by 
excessive power drains caused by grow houses."

PG&E has no figures available for Arcata's per capita electrical 
usage as compared with other communities.

.  On June 4, individuals responsible for other grow houses in Arcata 
were sentenced. Those homes had consumed 4,415 to 6,380 kilowatt 
hours of electricity monthly. A typical non-growing apartment dweller 
might consume under 300 kWh; a family home under 1,000 kWh.

Since its two 200-amp electrical meters face his home, a Ninth Street 
resident tracks electrical usage at his neighbor's grow house. The 
house - later raided by the Drug Task Force - consumes a whopping 
10,311 kilowatt hours of electricity per month.

City Energy Specialist Beckie Menten projected Arcata's 
non-governmental carbon release at roughly 130,000 tons per year. But 
that doesn't (yet) factor in the estimated 800 to 1,000 grow houses 
consuming multiple times the power of a human-occupied home.

.  Following the $55,000 fire in her Alice Avenue house last October, 
LaVina Collenberg receives a $558.06 bill for the residual balance 
her cannabis grower tenants owed. On being told the circumstances of 
their departure, PG&E forgives $359.25 of the bill.

But then, Collenberg discovers that while the tenants' multi-room 
"cooperative" grow operation was burning up $1,500 per month in 
electricity, they were paying less than half that cost. Thanks to a 
PG&E subsidy for persons with debilitating or life-threatening 
medical conditions, some $800 of the $1,500 bill was being paid for 
by the utility - that is, other ratepayers.

Some five Prop 215 recommendations, all signed by well-known 
215-friendly physicians Dr. Ken Miller and Dr. Hany Assad, were 
posted on the wall of the burned home to legitimize the cannabis 
cooperative. No arrests or charges were made.

In full production, the grow house might have netted its renters 
upwards of $150,000 yearly in commercial cannabis sales. "They told 
me [the program] was for people with low income and medical reasons," 
Collenberg said of PG&E.


PG&E spokesperson Jana Morris said the utility respects the privacy 
of its customers, and doesn't report homes with extraordinary power 
consumption unless asked by law enforcement.

Morris said she wasn't aware of any PG&E standards for safe indoor 
cannabis growing. She said the utility sometimes asks for proof of 
income for enrollees in its CARE Program for low- and fixed income 
residents. Those who don't respond have been dropped.

But PG&E, Morris said, has no way of ascertaining customer income not 
reported to the Internal Revenue Service. Nor can it disclose 
customers' medical status.


Whether or not PG&E addresses the problem, the more-nimble City and 
other local energy mavens are moving on it.

"We're trying to look into what can be done to improve safety, which 
would involve less energy consumption," said Dana Boudreau, program 
manager with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA).

With much of the energy in conventional lighting burned up as heat, 
efficiency and safety are much enhanced with the use of tuned 
Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lamps. Their use for agriculture is not 
widespread, but coming along.

Besides efficiency, LED lights can be optimized to deliver energy in 
specific bandwidths best used by lettuce, or tomatoes - or marijuana.

Just as pornography helped push the widespread acceptance of home 
VCRs and later, improvements in Internet bandwidth, cannabis 
cultivation might help popularize and bring down the cost of LED grow 
lights for agricultural use.

At the behest of alternative energy enthusiast and Planning 
Commissioner Michael Winkler, Arcata's Energy Committee will work 
with RCEA to develop standards for indoor grows. "My impression is 
that marijuana growing takes a tremendous amount of energy," Winkler said.

One possibility is having growers allow experts to do energy audits 
on their installations and offer options for upgrades to improve efficiency. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake