Energy and Cannabis: Avoiding the Coming Collision

The energy consumption required to grow cannabis indoors is substantial. Cultivators and, more importantly, consumers should be aware of the potential environmental impact cannabis cultivation can have on energy demand and consumption.

A recent Humboldt State University report found cannabis growers in just Humboldt County, California, using legal (i.e not stolen) energy, create and release around 40,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. That’s as much as 7,000 cars.

The obvious question is “Why?” What about cannabis, as opposed to corn or strawberries, requires this level of resources? Regulations reflecting security concerns—keeping thieves out of the grow houses—as well as cold, wet winter weather require cannabis to be grown indoors and under lights. Those lights need massive amounts of energy to function. In turn, the lights heat up the grow rooms, requiring air conditioning to prevent the lights from cooking the plants. Simultaneously, the plants are releasing moisture, requiring constant dehumidification.

The energy and cannabis industries need to start collaborating, so they can take steps to reduce the environmental impact of indoor growing, and coordinate their goals.

Maryland’s Energy Landscape

In Maryland, energy demand will increase as demand for cannabis increases, but there is little effort to account for that increase with renewable generation. Again, the Utility Commission isn’t coordinating with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC).

Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) was enacted in May 2004 and revised several times in the following 14 years. The program requires utilities to provide a percentage of their total energy supplied to consumers from renewable sources.

The RPS is divided into two tiers based on the electricity generation resource. Tier 1 renewables include:

  • solar
  • wind
  • biomass
  • anaerobic decomposition
  • geothermal
  • ocean
  • fuel cells powered through renewables
  • small hydro
  • poultry-litter incineration facilities
  • waste-to-energy facilities

Tier 2 renewables include hydroelectric power other than pump-storage generation.

The definition of “clean”, however,  is debatable in the state. While Maryland provided renewable power projects with millions of dollars in subsidies since 2004, funded through residents’ electricity bills, much of the money is going to projects that are only debatably “clean.” For example, the program supports trash incineration at Wheelabrator Baltimore, the area’s largest source of air pollution.

Beginning in 2006, electricity suppliers were required to provide 1% of retail electricity sales in the state from Tier 1 renewables and 2.5% from Tier 2 renewables. The renewables requirement increases incrementally, ultimately terminating at 25% from Tier 1 resources. The Tier 2 requirement eventually sunsets, dropping to 0% in 2019 and beyond.

Most recently, in February 2017, Maryland lawmakers voted to override the veto by Governor Hogan, to effectuate H.B. 1106, increasing the state’s renewable portfolio standard from the previous 20% to 25% by 2020.

Now What?

Maryland must reconcile its desire to have enough cannabis for patients with its willingness to reduce emissions and save its natural resources. Cultivators and consumers need to start the discussion with the utility commissions and cannabis commissions in their state. There are two trains on the metaphorical railroad track—energy and cannabis—and they are about to collide. It is up to cannabis licensees and consumers to signal to their lawmakers that they see the crash coming and soon.

Bridget Hill-Zayat, Esq. is of counsel with Hoban Law Group.