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Agency Chokes on Energy Inhaled by Pot Grow Farms

Massachusetts is the latest state to do a double take at the amount of energy inhaled by cannabis manufacturers and farms.

“Experience from other states has shown that the energy usage of marijuana establishments, especially large-scale, indoor facilities engaged in cultivation, is extraordinarily high,” a lawyer for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs wrote to the Cannabis Control Commission.

One concern is that the pot industry could impact the Bay State’s ability to meet its Global Warming Solution Act goals. Massachusetts must cut emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, meaning that energy efficiency and lower consumption are primary tools to achieve that goal.

In a letter from the state’s office of energy and environmental affairs, Tori Kim, agency general counsel, said that draft regulations fall short of specifying energy efficiency and environmental standards.

Grow operations require about 360 kWh per 25 sq. ft. of space, according to an energy agency presentation. That means a 1 million sq. ft. facility would require about 14.4 million kWh.

As one example, Kim said that inefficient high-intensity lighting might be used unless otherwise directed by regulation.

“Setting energy standards that encourage the use of LED lighting will reduce the need for cooling and significantly reduce energy use by cultivators,” she wrote.

High Intensity Discharge (HID) grow lights use around 80 times more energy than a 100 Watt LED bulb, roughly 1050W vs 13w. HID lights produce a significant amount of heat, requiring grow houses to run air conditioners almost all year.

The Massachusetts energy agency says that energy used to power HID lights for a 660,000 sq. ft. grow space could wipe out all benefit from LEDs installed in a statewide streetlight replacement program. That effort saw $11 million spent to convert more than 130,000 streetlights to low energy use LEDs.

The agency is pushing to have lighting power densities for cultivation space not to exceed a maximum wattage of 36 watts per square foot. It also is proposing that HVAC and dehumidification systems comply with Massachusetts Building Code requirements.

The cannabis commission is  expected to finalize rules by mid-March 15. The first pot shops are scheduled to open in July.

The Bloomberg news service  reported last year that a 5,000-square-foot warehouse filled with hydroponic growing systems can draw five times the electricity of a typical industrial user.

Even so, electric demand was  reported to have fallen off in some areas where legalized grow operations have been under way for  several years. Many grow operations are moving out of basements and warehouses and into greenhouses and open-air farms.

Legalization of the $3.5 billion U.S. cannabis market, where thousands of growers use energy 24 hours a day, was supposed to spark more consumption.

For  example, power use at Xcel Energy in Colorado rose as much as 2 percent after legalization. Similar gains were reported in Washington and Oregon.

In 2015, Denver’s 354 marijuana cultivation facilities used 200 million kWh, according to the Massachusetts energy agency presentation. Nearly 4% of Denver’s electricity usage in now devoted to the marijuana industry.

A problem that crops up in Massachusetts and not in semi-arid Colorado is humidity that requires use of dehumidification equipment to keep mold from wrecking crops and killing the buzz.

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