A Cottage Industry with High Electricity Use

Can growing marijuana change the way homes use electricity? In rural Humboldt County, in far-northern California, there’s no doubt that it can. Figure 1 tracks average monthly residential electricity use in Humboldt County and in California. Until the mid-1990s, these two values were almost identical. But after 1996, Humboldt County’s electricity use suddenly turned upward. What happened? In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized the medical use of marijuana. In practice, Proposition 215 enabled almost anyone to purchase marijuana. Humboldt County supplied much of the upsurge in demand. Marijuana is a hardy plant and grows just fine outdoors, but many farmers grow it indoors to protect themselves from nosy neighbors, police, and gangs. It’s a true cottage industry.

Two researchers at Humboldt State University, Peter Lehman and Peter Alstone, have documented the energy and environmental impacts of marijuana production in the region. Growing marijuana indoors is an electricity-intensive operation, relying on banks of grow lights and industrial-scale ventilation fans. Even a “modest” operation can rack up several thousand kWh per month. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Humboldt County residents supplement their incomes with “grows.” Similar enterprises exist throughout North America. In Colorado, for example, a single raid found grows in 25 Denver basements. The only difference is that in Humboldt County, the electricity impact is visible at a regional level.

Most energy auditors, utility repair staff, and weatherization crews can tell stories about visiting homes where the occupants are growing marijuana or running other drug operations. Sometimes the auditors never get beyond the front door, or perhaps they are told not to enter a certain room, or the “garage” out back. In any event, that’s usually a signal to abort the job and leave the premises.

It is also important to understand the consequences of growing marijuana inside the house. Simply put, cultivating marijuana indoors destroys homes. The plants create water vapor, which encourages highly toxic mold growth and destroys building materials. The larger operations abandon any pretense of living in the house, because they chop holes in walls and floors for ventilation and wiring. These are greenhouses masquerading as homes, and they are not habitable without tens of thousands of dollars of remediation. The police department of Ottawa, Canada, maintains a list of homes where marijuana is grown so that city authorities know which houses are likely to have mold and structural problems. Of course, the house might burn down before the mold does it in, if the huge electrical loads overwhelm the residential wiring, or stolen electricity is brought in the house through amateur wiring.

Without arguing the merits of legalizing marijuana, it is clear that our drug laws have created a new—and large—use of residential electricity. One likely side benefit of decriminalizing marijuana will be reduced home energy use in Humboldt County, in California, and in the rest of North America.

 

Figure 1. After 1996, Humboldt County’s per capita electricity use suddenly turned upward. What happened? (Image credit: California Energy Conservation, U.S. Census)

 

- Alan Meier

Views: 130

Comment

You need to be a member of Home Energy Pros to add comments!

Join Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros was founded by the developers of Home Energy Saver Pro (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy,) and brought to you in partnership with Home Energy magazine.

Latest Activity

Alice La Pierre replied to Kaushal Bharath Raju's discussion Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.
"Hello Kaushal, While it's true I did some of the finish work myself, I also acted as my own…"
2 hours ago
Kaushal Bharath Raju replied to Kaushal Bharath Raju's discussion Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.
"Thank you Linda for your response; and your generosity in sharing your suggestion and hope. I…"
2 hours ago
Kaushal Bharath Raju replied to Kaushal Bharath Raju's discussion Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.
"Wow...thank you so much for your response Alice! I really appreciate it. It is simply amazing all…"
2 hours ago
Tom White's 3 videos were featured
2 hours ago
Jim Gunshinan's blog post was featured
2 hours ago
Sharon Block's 3 events were featured
2 hours ago
Tom White posted videos
3 hours ago
Linda Wigington replied to Kaushal Bharath Raju's discussion Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.
"Kaushal I just spent more than an hour on a detailed response and lost when I decided to check the…"
3 hours ago
Sharon Block posted events
3 hours ago
Alice La Pierre replied to Kaushal Bharath Raju's discussion Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.
"Hello Kaushal, I understand your predicament, as I also have a house in Berkeley that I wanted to…"
3 hours ago
Kaushal Bharath Raju replied to Kaushal Bharath Raju's discussion Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.
"Thanks Graham for that. It was also my belief that the cost difference between remodeling and doing…"
5 hours ago
Kaushal Bharath Raju replied to Kaushal Bharath Raju's discussion Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.
"Thanks Jim! I'll be sure to check that out."
5 hours ago

© 2014   Created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service