Pubdate: Sun, 25 Jul 2010
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2010 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson


Power Usage In Humboldt And Mendocino Skyrocketed After Prop.

Energy use in Mendocino County has risen 27 percent -- more than three
times the state's average -- since medical marijuana was legalized in
1996. Humboldt County's usage has risen 51 percent, more than six
times the state's average, according to PG&E.

Growers and law enforcement officials attribute the spike to indoor
pot growing, which requires energy-sucking fans, air filters and
high-intensity lights.

Indoor pot gardens can use as much as 20 times the electricity as the
average household, said Peter Lehman, director of Schatz Energy
Research Center at Humboldt State University.

Statewide, energy consumption per household has increased 8 percent
since 1996. Sonoma County's energy use rose by 9 percent, while Lake
County's rose by 14 percent.

Indoor marijuana gardens have come under fire as wasteful,
hypocritical and unnecessary, since marijuana already grows like a
weed in the North Coast's Emerald Triangle.

"Plants are the original solar collectors," Lehman said. "They're very
good at it."

Lehman said the problem is "particularly egregious here. It's
expensive, it's bad for the environment, and it's wasteful. It's a
misuse of a precious energy resource."

"It's amazing," said Matthew Cohen, executive director of Northstone
Organics Cooperative Inc. in Mendocino County, a medical marijuana
collective. "You have these progressive liberal folks who eat organic
and maybe even drive a Prius but continuously burn 8,000 watts."

Northstone grows its plants outdoors and in greenhouses.

The average California household used 561 kilowatt hours in 2009,
according to PG&E. In Humboldt County, the average was 673 kilowatt
hours, and among PG&E's Mendocino County customers, it averaged 768
kilowatt hours.

Mendocino County's figures could be even higher because they don't
include the city of Ukiah. It prohibits outdoor marijuana growing,
forcing pot cultivators to move indoors.

Ukiah has its own electric utility, and usage figures were not

Law enforcement officials see unusually high energy consumption as a
way to demonstrate probable cause when it comes time to obtain search
warrants, said Bob Nishiyama, head of the Mendocino Major Crimes Task

Indoor growers can spend as much as $4,000 a month on electricity, he

Cohen is part of a growing movement that promotes sustainable pot
production, which means outdoor cultivation. He said there's no
difference between indoor and outdoor pot if both are tended in the
same, careful manner.

But Mendocino growers say pot dispensaries overwhelmingly want
marijuana grown indoors, claiming it's of higher quality. They
complain that Bay Area dispensaries won't even consider buying
marijuana grown outdoors.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has not
taken a position on the issue, said state coordinator Dale Gieringer.

The energy use debate may be heating up. Oakland officials are already
thinking about it as they make plans to permit large, industrial
marijuana growing operations.

"They're talking about doing carbon offsets," Cohen said. "Is it OK to
drive your Hummer around if you're donating to carbon offsets?"

Mendocino County grower Jim Hill believes the problem will sort itself
out over time, sooner rather than later if voters legalize marijuana
for all personal uses in November. If that happens, the supply of
marijuana is expected to rise, causing prices to fall.

North Coast growers are already reporting a glut that has lowered the
amount they receive for their product to about $2,000 a pound, down
from about $4,000 several years ago.

"Eventually, there won't be any indoor" growing, Hill

PG&E officials declined to discuss the impact of indoor marijuana
cultivation on energy use.

"What our customers do in their own homes is none of our business,"
said PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers. 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D