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Samantha Felix Samantha Felix

Legal Weed Could Drive Up Oregon’s Energy Demands

Growing weed indoors uses a ton of electricity. Will the enviro-friendly state have to choose between legalizing pot and saving the environment?

3 Substance

Oregonians could soon face their worst possible nightmare: having to choose between growing marijuana and saving the climate. Nooo! The state known for its liberal attitudes, bike riding, recycling and flannel wearing (before it was cool) will vote on a measure this November to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

But legal pot comes with a price, and for eviro-friendly Oregon it’s an especially steep one. Growing cannabis plants indoors is extremely energy intensive. In fact, it takes the same amount of energy to run four pot plants as to run 29 refrigerators, says a new study by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. As the industry grows, indoor pot growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana are predicted to use up to 240 megawatts of electricity by 2035—that’s just a little less than what it takes to power the entire city of Eugene.

As the chart below suggests, the northwest is home to a particularly high number of indoor marijuana growers, due in part to increased security, the ability to replicate ideal growing conditions (e.g., avoiding those long months of rain the area is known for) and reduced growing cycles.

Right now, pot growing facilities consume less electricity than known energy hogs like data centers and electric cars, but that could change. The rapidly growing industry is expected to have a significant impact on the region’s overall energy demand in the not-distant future. “These are large industrial facilities,” explains Tom Eckman, director of the Conservation Council. “Some of them are a million square feet in Colorado. And it’s an area of growth that can ramp up pretty fast.”

The good news is there may be an opportunity for compromise. Almost 80% of electricity used to grow weed goes towards lighting; the rest is for ventilation, water handling, CO2-injection and drying the plants. Switching to energy-efficient LED lighting would not only reduce energy consumption, but could also increases the grower’s potential yield by 6%, according to the latest research. So maybe Oregonians can have their pot and save the environment, too.