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Now That Growing Pot Is Legal, Can It Also Be More Energy Efficient?

<p>Marijuana growing operations use as much electricity per square foot as data centers.</p>
Rusty Blazenhoff/Flickr

Marijuana growing operations use as much electricity per square foot as data centers.

Marijuana growing operations can be major power hogs. Now that they're legal in Oregon and Washington, experts are looking for ways to make them more energy efficient.

Indoor pot growing operations use as much electricity per square foot as data centers, according to energy attorney Richard Lorenz with Cable Huston.

"Just growing four marijuana plants uses as much energy as running 29 refrigerators," he said. "The carbon output is incredible."

But growers don't want to sacrifice the quality of their product to save energy, according to John Morris, policy and regulatory affairs director for the energy-efficiency consulting firm CLEAResult.

Lorenz and Morris spoke at an Oregon Environmental Business Council event Wednesday in Portland that focused on the power demands of legal marijuana.

Morris said LED grow lights don't work as well as they need to for the industry to start swapping out their power-hungry incandescent grow light bulbs. And lights, he said are only a third of all the energy requirements for indoor growers.

Utilities could play a major role in improving the energy efficiency of pot-growing operations, he said, but they'll need to build a better relationship with growers first.

"Utilities are perfectly set up to work with the growers and produce energy efficient product," Morris said. "Utilities know how to do this. But we have a history of growers stealing power, and there's this sense of I just need to pay the bill, I don't want to talk to you. So, there's a paradigm shift that needs to happen."

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council expects the marijuana industry will be one of only three industries actually increasing power demand for the region. By 2035, the council projects marijuana growers will require 250 megawatts of electricity.

"To put that in perspective, 250 megawatts is larger than the load of the city of Eugene," Lorenz said. "It would be the size of a pretty large city in and of itself – not an insignificant amount of power."

But Lorenz said he considers that a "conservative" estimate because so much of the existing industry has been off the grid or hidden for so long.

"The thing I think they can't predict is how big the industry is going to be by 2035," he said.

He said it's still unclear whether legalization will help make the industry more energy efficient by bringing growers out of the shadows.

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