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: 164


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.  Home Energy Pros is sponsored by the Better Buildings Residential Network.

Latest Activity

Robyn Smith replied to Chris Woods's discussion Looking to purchase Minneapolis Blower door system- Model 3 with DG-700 in the group Energy Auditing Equipment for Sale, Trade or to Purchase
"Hi Chris, I replied to you via email yesterday. I have what you are looking for!! Minneapolis…"
6 hours ago
Profile IconJohn Gillis, William C Gilbert, Brian Breckin and 4 more joined Home Energy Pros
9 hours ago
Paul Scheckel posted a blog post

Energy Ambassadors: Cuba and Vermont

Last winter i had the pleasure of hosting a Cuban colleague for a week in Vermont. We toured the…See More
10 hours ago
Linda Wigington commented on David Eggleton's group 1000 Home Challenge
"Two more projects have recently been approved as 1000 Home CHallenge candidates. We welcome Eric…"
Colin Genge posted events
Craig McManus replied to Timothy Renz's discussion Vinyl batt to metal frame ware house
"How can I air seal a metal building in the south to keep out humid air which is causing mold? Will…"
Tom White posted a video
Profile IconJeshurun and Chris Woods joined allen p tanner's group

Energy Auditing Equipment for Sale, Trade or to Purchase

Discuss the pros and cons of the equipment you are interested in prior to purchase. Post equipment…See More

© 2015   Created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service