Pubdate: Mon, 08 Jan 2018
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Times Colonist
Author: Laura Kane
Page: A2


VANCOUVER - Dan Sutton always assumed cannabis had to be grown

The former technology professional was new to the marijuana industry
in 2012 when he founded Tantalus Labs. The stereotypical image of a
large industrial warehouse, with pot plants growing under bright
lights and fans, loomed large in his mind.

But when Sutton asked academics, horticulturists and engineers for
advice, they all told him that no crop on the planet is grown indoors
on a commercial scale.

"It just doesn't really make a huge amount of sense to replace the
energy of sunlight, which is so abundant and obviously healthy for
leafy green crops, with a synthetic alternative," he said.

So he was focused on plant health, not sustainability, when he decided
to build SunLab, a 120,000-square foot greenhouse in Maple Ridge. It
was only after he crunched the numbers that he realized it would use
90 per cent less electricity than a traditional indoor facility, he

As Canada moves closer to legalizing cannabis, experts are warning it
isn't so green for the environment. Growing pot indoors gobbles
electricity through the use of high-intensity lamps, air conditioners,
dehumidifiers and more, while irrigation for outdoor grow-ops in
California has been shown to be sucking some streams dry.

Sutton said cannabis is so lucrative that companies don't need to
control expenses, such as electricity costs, efficiently. Regulators
should help newcomers prioritize sustainability - for example, through
building standards or green tax credits - but there's been little
discussion of that in Canada so far, he said.

"We just let ourselves get to a place where cannabis is so profitable
that people aren't considering the future of the planet," he said.

A peer-reviewed study in 2012 estimated that one per cent of U.S.
electricity use came from indoor marijuana operations. In California,
the top-producing state, indoor cultivation was responsible for about
three per cent of electricity use, or equivalent to that of one
million homes, wrote Evan Mills, a senior scientist in energy
technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Several Canadian cannabis companies are investing in greenhouse
production. Canopy Growth is developing 1.3 million square feet of
greenhouse capacity in B.C., while Aurora Cannabis bought a
greenhouse-design firm to oversee the construction of its
800,000-square foot production facility at Edmonton's airport.

Of course, illicit pot growers have traditionally kept their crops
indoors to hide them from police. If they join the legal industry,
it's possible some will switch to outdoor cultivation, said Jonathan
Page, a University of British Columbia botany professor.

Page wrote to the parliamentary committee handling legalization in
August and urged it to include outdoor cultivation in Canada's
cannabis regime. In November, Health Canada released proposed
regulations that would allow indoor and outdoor producers.

But while outdoor production generally uses less energy, it might use
more water. Indoors, it's important to control water use to keep
humidity low and prevent mould, said Emily Backus, chairwoman of a
work group on cannabis sustainability set up by the City of Denver.

A study published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in
2015 looked at outdoor marijuana grow-ops and greenhouses. Researchers
concluded that weed cultivation was excessively diverting water from
creeks that are home to threatened salmon populations.

Lead author Scott Bauer said researchers used an industry estimate
that a marijuana plant needs about 22 litres of water a day, compared
with a wine-producing grape plant, which uses about 12 litres a day.

Many cannabis greenhouses in California use lights, raising concerns
about energy use and light pollution outdoors, he added.

Health Canada's proposed cannabis regulations do not specifically
address energy use or water consumption. The rules would require that
legal cannabis products meet quality standards, be produced in
sanitary environments and be tested for contaminants and the presence
of unauthorized pesticides.

In a statement, Health Canada said cannabis facilities, as with all
industrial facilities, will be subject to Environment and Climate
Change Canada rules, including pollutant-release reporting
obligations, water-pollutant prohibitions and carbon-pollution pricing.

"At this time, however, Environment and Climate Change Canada is not
planning any new regulations specifically focused on this sector," it

Health Canada has asked for feedback on the proposed regulations by
Jan. 20. The department is also assessing the environmental impacts of
cannabis production, among other impacts, and will publish its
findings alongside the finalized regulations, it said.

Boulder County in Colorado requires cannabis growers to either offset
their electricity use with renewable energy or pay a fee. The fee goes
toward a special fund that is used to educate and encourage best
marijuana cultivation practices.

As the industry has grown, companies have focused more on reducing
energy costs to be more competitive, said Ron Flax, the county's chief
building official.

"There's actually an unbelievable level of innovation that's taken
place in the last couple years in terms of more energy-efficient
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