Maine finds marijuana growers too risky for energy efficiency grants
- The independent administrator for Maine's energy efficiency programs says cannabis-based businesses will not be allowed to apply for grants, deeming them too risky because of marijuana's prohibited status at the federal level.
- Maine legalized recreational marijuana last year, and the sector has been struggling to find help in controlling its energy use, as it has in other states. Some utilities have shied away from offering help to growers, despite their significant energy use from high-powered indoor lighting.
- Massachusetts is considering another approach, however. Its Cannabis Control Commission is in the process of developing standards and regulations for growers and a state agency has recommended energy efficiency standards be put in place.
As the marijuana industry grows and becomes more-accepted, and the federal government remains hands-off, utility engagement with the sector will likely grow. But for now, Maine ratepayers won't fund efficiency improvements.
"I can't tell my board that (U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions isn't going to shut them all down tomorrow. He's got that right. He's made it clear he'd like to. We can't invest in a business that may not be around tomorrow," Maine Efficiency Executive Director Michael Stoddard told the Portland Press Herald.
Last year the organization funded $3 million in electricity grants. Combined with investment from the applicant, the grants are expected to show lifetime savings of almost $16 million.
While marijuana can be grown outdoors, regulations in legalizing it often push production indoors — and create significant electricity demand in the process. The Northwest Power & Conservation Council forecast a regional load for Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington of between 180 MW and 300 MW for indoor grow operations by 2035, and said production is on a short list of "emerging markets."
Colorado has been on the frontline of legalizing marijuana, and indoor growing has expanded steadily. Denver's Department of Public Health and Environment released data earlier this year showing that the marijuana industry makes up nearly 4 percent of the city's total electricity use, according to CPR News. The data indicated a decline in energy used per pound of marijuana grown, although reductions through efficiency had been outpaced by rising demand and production. A 2017 study from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project calculated that the state's indoor growing operations could reduce 32% of its energy use through efficiency best practices regarding lighting, cooling and dehumidification in facilities.
There is still relatively little data on the industry, however. Derek Smith, executive director of Resource Innovation Institute, is developing the Cannabis Power Score, an energy benchmarking tool that attempts to give growers a rough idea of how to improve efficiency. The long-term goal of the project, however, is data collection to better understand and assist the industry.
"We've been encouraging utilities to fund a national baseline study with regional variations for two-plus years, but it is not being done," Smith told Utility Dive last year. "We hope they will, but in the meantime, we created this cannabis power score tool to at least begin the process of collecting much better data across states, climate and growing zones."
- Portland Press Herald Cannabis businesses shut out of Maine’s energy-efficiency programs
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