Nevada’s medical marijuana law prevents the outdoor growth of marijuana due to security concerns. The law – which mandates that cannabis plants must not be visible to the general public for security reasons – is also creating an extra headache and increasing the bottom line for the state’s growers. The ever-present desert sun is now an option off the table.
A single 100,000 square foot facility can require up to 5 megawatts of electricity to fuel its growing operations for a year – or enough electricity to power 1,000 homes. That is also about 5% of the entire capacity of a state-based substation. Even covering an entire warehouse roof with solar cells is not enough to offset the energy drain created by such facilities.
But this is not just an issue in Nevada. Data from Colorado’s largest utility indicates that one in every 200 watts it sells goes to marijuana grow operations already. Washington State utilities still do not have numbers on this sector of the market but unofficial projections are substantial. Both states do not require indoor grows although the legal market in Colorado is more indoor oriented already. When Nevada’s recreational market comes online, as it is expected to do after 2016, this will present even more of a problem, and not only for the state. Because electrical power can be shunted around the country, unlike pot which cannot cross state lines, the net impact of the legalizing industry across the country is actually presenting a picture of a national power drain to grow the nation’s most popular crop.
The downstream impact is that the requirements in newly legal marijuana states far beyond Nevada, to maintain indoor grows have also started to dramatically shape the new face of the industry across the United States. What these restrictions are also starting to do, beyond the negative aspects of increasing costs, is nurture a long stalled cleantech, low water, low energy industrial boom across the marijuana vertical. Many industry analysts also believe that the marijuana market, as a result, is pioneering a new kind of agriculture in America, applicable to a vast range of crops.
Instead of spending huge amounts of money to heat and cool these infrastructures, increasing numbers of cultivators are turning to specially constructed greenhouses. In existing infrastructures, they are also replacing high wattage conventional lighting with LEDs instead.
The fact of the matter is that both water and energy use for indoor crops is a major expense for all indoor growers, especially in western states now facing a historic drought. California has just implemented a mandatory, dramatic, first of its kind, municipal water use restriction. Marijuana growers in every state, but especially in the west, have been explicitly banned from using federal water supplies.
As a result, states where the market is tightly restricted, including Minnesota and New York, beyond Nevada, Colorado and Washington, will also likely go a highly sustainable, cleantech route to fostering this new and highly profitable industry. Marijuana legalization, it seems, may not only be the right thing to do from a medical if not civil rights perspective. In the long run, it may also turn out to be the final trigger to implementing widespread sustainable business practices, far beyond the crop itself.