Statehouse Headliners: Power-hungry marijuana cultivation would increase VT carbon footprint

By Guy Page

In Colorado, commercial marijuana cultivation comprises about half of all demand for new electricity. If Vermont adopts regulation, cultivation and sale of marijuana, industrial-scale indoor cultivation likewise will increase electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Vermont’s Clean Energy Plan calls for 90 percent total renewable energy by 2050. A 2012 law set aggressive benchmarks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To meet these goals, Vermonters pay higher rates to support renewable energy and energy efficiency. About half of Vermont’s electricity comes from high-emissions combustion of natural gas, oil, coal, or wood. Therefore, any proposed large “spike” in electricity use that does not lead to less fossil fuel consumption (like electric cars or home heat pumps) will hinder progress towards these goals. Huge new demands for round-the-clock power also could threaten reliable delivery of power, and require more purchases of expensive “peak” power.

Wikimedia Commons

NOT GREEN?: Marijuana legalization is causing concerns across the U.S., especially with regard to incidents of driving while stoned. New research suggests it may be bad for the environment as well.

Vermont and Colorado relate to each other in a rough, “rule of thumb” 1:10 ratio. There is about one Vermonter per 10 Coloradans; about one megawatt of electricity consumed for every 10 in Colorado; and the frequent estimate of $20 million in possible Vermont marijuana regulation/sale revenue is about $1 for every $10 raised in Colorado.

Colorado pot cultivation consumes about 316,890 megawatt hours (MWH) of electricity. If the 1:10 ratio holds true, a “regulate and sell” Vermont industry will add about 32,000 MWH annually from commercial marijuana cultivation alone. [Here’s my arithmetic: According to the Oct. 2, 2016 Denver Post, as early as 2014 indoor industrial pot “grows” consumed enough electricity to power 35,000 homes. The average Colorado home consumes 9,054 kilowatt hours (KWH) annually. 35,000 x 9054 equals 316,890,000 KWH, or 316,890 MWH. If the Vermont/Colorado 1:10 ratio holds, that is 31,689 MWH in Vermont, rounded up to 32,000 MWH.]

As of Nov. 1, 2017, Colorado had 1,461 licensed cultivation centers. Virtually all cultivation occurs indoors, due to commercial marijuana’s high-maintenance need for precise amounts of light, humidity, and heat. A failure in any of these three environmental factors could lead to quality control and financial disaster. Lighting is particularly expensive – about half the cost of production. “Some larger facilities today suck down as much as $1 million in power a month,” the 10/2/2016 Denver Post reported. A small, 3,100 sq. ft. facility has a power bill of $5,000 – but is happily paid because a pound of pot sells for $2,500 a pound, with expenses only $600.

To put 32,000 MWH in Vermont perspective, the combined energy efficiency savings of the state’s two leading energy efficiency utilities, Efficiency Vermont (EV) and the Burlington Electric Department (BED), totaled about 112,000 MWH in 2016. EV and BED encourage us to buy low-watt light bulbs and appliances, and offer us planning and financial assistance, with the goal of reducing the state’s power load, especially at “peak” times of day. In other words, Colorado-style commercial marijuana cultivation on a Vermont scale would wipe out 29 percent of Vermont’s annual electricity conservation savings.

Note: these statistics refer only to added load for cultivation. There are no known energy statistics for marijuana industry offices, transportation, and commercial stores. Colorado now has more marijuana storefronts (491) than either Starbucks (392), or McDonalds (208), according to the latest issue of Colorado’s state report on marijuana.

To date, Vermont’s energy policy makers have not studied energy implications of pot cultivation resulting from legalization. In the last two weeks I have asked one senator and one House member, both on energy committees, and a utility spokesperson if they have considered this problem. The response, in a word: no. Governor Phil Scott has asked his marijuana advisory commission to investigate the implications of legalization in several “miscellaneous” areas, but energy consumption is not among them. About two weeks ago I inquired about energy implications through the advisory commission’s “contact us” website portal. I have not received a reply.

Vermont is an energy-conscious state. In the name of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our leaders have asked and even required Vermonters to make changes in what we pay for energy, how we drive, how we dress, and how we heat and light our homes. In the coming months, Vermonters will be watching to see if these leaders address the adverse energy consequences of marijuana legalization and cultivation.

VPR misses big picture on VMS Assisted Death Referendum

A Vermont Public Radio story about the Vermont Medical Society’s decision to not call assisted death “ethical” somehow came out as a “win” for supporters of Act 39, the state’s assisted death law.

As reported in a recent Statehouse Headliners, the Vermont Medical Society (VMS) on November 4 refused to support a referendum calling assisted death “an ethical choice”. Instead, the VMS referendum merely noted that assisted death is legal in Vermont — which has been true since 2013. The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care (VAEH), of which I am advocacy director, told the reporter quite correctly that this decision was a significant shift in support of doctors who do not support assisted death as an ethical choice.

VPR, however, played up the angle that in the past VMS has opposed the practice of assisted death. When the VPR reporter called me, I explained to him at least five times why this resolution is a win for ethical opposition to assisted death. I repeated with emphasis: the first resolution called it ethical, but was rescinded in favor of a second draft that deleted the “ethical” language and simply noted that it’s legal to practice in Vermont. Regardless of my explanations, somehow an embarrassing loss for advocates who failed to achieve their goal of physicians calling assisted death ethical was construed as a “win.” Weird.

Seven Days: sexual harassment in Vermont Statehouse

Congrats to reporter Alicia Freese of Seven Days for her terrific reporting on sexual harassment in the Vermont Statehouse. To summarize: it has happened to quite a few women. Some victims worry reporting it will hinder their effectiveness in the go-along-to-get-along Statehouse.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Church at Prison.

Images courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR and Wikimedia Commons

6 thoughts on “Statehouse Headliners: Power-hungry marijuana cultivation would increase VT carbon footprint

  1. No-no-no, you don’t understand. Growing pot indoors even though in uses more power, is a beneficial carbon footprint. It isn’t like using a computer or TV to educate oneself. That is a waste of power and terrible carbon emission.

    Just when will you anti-Gaian devil worshipers come to grips with correct thought.

  2. If it’s legal it can be grown outdoors, using pure solar energy right from the source. No need for all that electricity.

    • Hi Gordon – alas Verdant Vermont, an outdoor growing company, has announced it will not join the VT cultivation scene because it is impossible to compete economically with indoor grows, due to inability to control climate, light, etc. etc. Even in sunnier Colorado, the business is all inside. No doubt there would be some boutique outdoor growers, but the real money would be made from growing pot indoors. – Guy Page

  3. BRAHAWAHHAAWAHAAAA …. didn’t see that one coming! People could care bupcus in Montpelier regarding the health of the individuals toking this crap down. Not sure which will ‘evolve’ into the greater liability …. Zuckerman clearly places no value on human life.

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