EMISSIONS: Colorado struggles with marijuana’s huge carbon footprint
John Fialka, E&E special correspondent
Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, holds an annual marijuana “holiday” every April. But federal officials say the growing popularity of indoor grow houses in particular is compromising the state’s ability to meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. Photo courtesy of AP Images.
Second of a two-part series on the carbon and energy footprint of Colorado’s marijuana industry. Click here to read the first part.
DENVER — Colorado, which gets 60 percent of its electricity from coal-burning power plants, has set some of the more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets in the United States. It wants to cut emissions from its power plants 38 percent by 2030. Denver, its largest city, has a plan to cut 80 percent of all of its emissions by midcentury.
One of the immediate problems of the target-setters, however, is that the state lacks plans from its fastest-growing, most energy-hungry users: owners of indoor marijuana farms.
This city has over 300 of them, from the licensed, cavernous warehouses downtown where workers wear sunglasses and sunblock to prevent damage from banks of 1,000-watt lightbulbs to an unknown number of clandestine “grow houses” in the suburbs, often rented homes whose tenants sometimes hide their massive electricity use by stealing it before it hits their meters.
What’s worrisome about this to Colorado and other states planning to follow its pioneering example by legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana is that the power needs of the industry are helping to push electricity use up, not down.
Last year, Denver announced its plan to accelerate its timetable and cut electricity uses by 7 percent in three years. But then it was informed by the electric utility that serves it, Xcel Energy Inc., that the city’s electricity use was rising by 1.2 percent a year and that 45 percent of that increase appeared to be coming from indoor pot-growing.
That led to the formation of the Cannabis Sustainability Work Group, composed of city officials and representatives from the marijuana-growing industry, to see if something can be done to keep Denver’s greenhouse gas reduction goals from becoming unreachable. Emily Backus, a city Department of Environmental Health official, said the group has met monthly since January. She found the pot growers both interested and wary.
They are interested because electricity is a “huge percentage of their operating costs,” explained Backus. They are wary because private consultants who sell them various expensive “energy-saving” lamps for growing marijuana plants “have put a lot of bad products on the market that didn’t produce the yield or the potency that they need.”
Moving indoors for higher THC
In the increasingly competitive pot industry that has blossomed here, more growers are moving inside to get the brilliant lighting and controlled temperatures needed to get multiple crops, production that helps them pay their huge electricity bills.
As for potency, Denver growers aim for a product that contains 17 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive drug that produces the high. Some members of Denver’s city council are trying to cap the THC level at 15 percent, but growers of the city’s exotic, genetically modified plants say they need the higher drug potency to remain competitive.
Budding marijuana plants, some the size of small trees, sit under the blazing lights and elaborate ventilation and air conditioning systems in a Colorado grow house after a raid by federal, state and local law enforcement officers. Photo courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Growers would be forced to destroy their strains and start over, something that’s not economically or practically feasible,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, which functions as its trade association.
By contrast, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which worries about the addictive and mental health problems that stronger pot poses to children and teenagers, the THC content of pot-growing in the 1990s ran around 5 percent.
But producing more potent pot pushed the industry’s electricity use to 2.2 percent of Denver’s energy use in 2014, according to the city. Meanwhile, Denver is trying hard to meet its 2020 sustainability goal, which requires it to cut fossil fuel consumption by 50 percent from 2012 levels.
A commonly discussed energy-reduction remedy would be to require growers to use powerful light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, but Backus, who is co-chair of the Cannabis Sustainability Work Group, said growers complain that the light from the bulbs doesn’t “produce the potency that the grower is looking for.”
For complete article https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060036287
Marijuana’s Ecological Impact https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9k6WO1diLrI&t=5s
The utterly staggering cost to environment (and on energy and water consumption) by Cannabis production (driven by demand just to get high??) is never raised by pro-weed lobby! No true environmentalist would promote pot!
Integral Ecology Research Centre, www.IERCecology.org and
Silent Poison https://silentpoison.com