LANSING — Pot is a power-hungry crop.
Indoor marijuana grow facilities gobble up massive amounts of electricity, prompting a push from some environmental advocates for energy efficiency in the industry.
Michigan’s marijuana laws do not directly address energy efficiency, but some utilities say they will work with growers to help them cut back on electricity.
A national 2018 report estimated legal cannabis cultivation ate up 1.1 million megawatt hours of electricity in a year, enough to power 92,500 homes.
That usage will only grow as more states legalize the recreational and medical marijuana industries.
Electricity usage among cannabis cultivators is expected to increase 162% nationwide between 2017 and 2022, according to researchers with New Frontier Data, a firm that studies cannabis.
On average, a marijuana grow facility uses 70 times more electricity for lighting than a commercial office building, the researchers found.
Marijuana has long harvest cycles and flourishes under sustained periods of direct light. To create ideal moisture and temperature levels, cultivators crank up heating, ventilation and cooling systems.
Outdoor farms use less electricity
Greenhouses and outdoor farms are less energy intensive since they rely on sunlight.
In the Midwest, where weather is inconsistent, most grow facilities are indoors.
Indoor cultivators use 18 times more energy than outdoor growers to produce one gram of cannabis. And indoor marijuana farms emit nearly 25 times more carbon compared to outdoor facilities, according to New Frontier Data.
Carbon-dioxide emissions, often a byproduct of fossil fuels, are a major contributor to climate change.
Michigan law does not require grow facilities to operate completely indoors, but it does specify that marijuana plants at the facilities cannot be visible to passersby. State rules require outdoor commercial growers to keep the plants behind locked fences or other enclosures.
Commercial recreational marijuana growers are starting to go online in Michigan, after voters legalized recreational use of the drug in 2018.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008 and commercial medical grows have been operating legally in the state for more than a year.
Michigan doesn’t track cultivator energy use
Granular data on energy use at cannabis grow facilities is lacking, in part due to the drug’s illicit history, said Molly Graham, a senior program manager for the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, an environmental advocacy group. The alliance has pushed states, including Illinois, to regulate energy efficiency in the cannabis industry.
Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, but more than 30 states have legalized marijuana in some form.
Furthermore, many businesses are hesitant to release details about their growing processes, including how they use lighting and HVAC systems.
„Growers kind of see it as their secret recipe to growing a quality product,” Graham said.
Illinois has stricter efficiency standards
State and local governments should require commercial cannabis growers to submit reports on energy usage, Graham said. The data could be released in aggregated or anonymous form.
Illinois will require growers to submit reports on their energy usage. Recreational marijuana becomes legal in the prairie state on Jan. 1.
Michigan’s marijuana laws do not include energy reporting requirements.
David Harns, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said he was not aware of energy efficiency incentives offered specifically to marijuana growers at the state level.
In Illinois, state law mandates that growers use lighting and HVAC equipment that meets a certain level of efficiency. Michigan’s marijuana laws do not include those mandates.
Some governments also are targeting marijuana’s carbon footprint.
For example, Boulder County, Colorado requires marijuana growers to pay a surcharge if they don’t buy local renewable energy to offset their electricity use.
Local regulations don’t address energy
Lansing requires marijuana businesses to obtain a city license in addition to a state license, but the city’s scoring criteria does not award points based on applicant’s plans for energy efficiency.
The city could license up 75 medical and recreational cultivators through 2020. In 2021, Lansing will reduce its cap on growers to 55 licenses.
Neighboring East Lansing also allows cannabis cultivators, but the issue of energy efficiency did not come up when City Council discussed its marijuana ordinance, Mayor Ruth Beier said. East Lansing’s ordinance doesn’t cap the number of marijuana grow facilities citywide, but the city’s zoning rules limit the proliferation of the facilities.
Even in the absence of state regulations, utilities should encourage energy efficiency at cannabis farms, Graham said.
Utilities can work with growers
In Michigan, Consumers Energy offers cannabis facilities the same energy efficiency rebates that are available to any other business, spokesman Brian Wheeler said.
The public utility serves 1.8 million electric customers in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, including 110,000 customers in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties.
The demand for electricity through Consumers Energy typically grows 1 to 2% each year, and the utility is not projecting a more substantial increase because of the cannabis industry, Wheeler said.
Nonetheless, Consumers plans to monitor the situation and, if necessary, adjust production, he said.
„We are aware that the marijuana growing business can be energy-intensive,” Wheeler said. „They’re like a large farming operation or a factory.”
The Lansing Board of Water & Light, which serves more than 97,000 electric customers in the Lansing area, does not track the number of marijuana grow facilities in its service territory, General Manager Dick Peffley said.
The city-owned utility has surplus energy to sell each year and officials do not expect the demands of the cannabis industry to create problems, Peffley said.
The BWL does not offer incentives specific to cannabis businesses, but that industry could access incentives available to any customer, Peffley said. That includes rebates and energy-use audits.
Bottom line could motivate cannabis industry
Graham recommends that growers notify their local utilities before setting up shop. That way officials can advise growers on installing equipment for maximum efficiency.
„I think sometimes the utilities don’t find out about these customers until these pieces are selected.” Graham said.
Growers can shrink their utility bills relying on sunlight when possible while supplementing with LED lights. And businesses can schedule their watering and HVAC systems to avoid peak-use charges.
Green Peak Innovations, which operates two large-scale grow facilities in the Lansing area, obtains energy from the BWL and spends about $100,000 each month on utilities, company spokesman Jordan Walker said.
To reduce its energy footprint, Green Peak uses LED lights and solar panels.
„We were keenly aware that cannabis is a utility-heavy business, even before we kicked off our operations,” Walker said. „That’s why energy efficiency was a focus during the design and build process of our cultivation facilities.”
As growers produce more cannabis, potentially driving down prices in Michigan, the bottom line might have more influence than governments and utilities, Graham predicted.
Energy can account for 20% to 50% of an indoor grower’s operating costs, according to the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.
For many growers, going green could become a financial imperative.
Reporter Sarah Lehr can be reached at (517) 377-1056 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGLehr.