Curbing the marijuana industry’s voracious energy appetite

By Gina Warren, University of Houston.

As voters go to the polls this November, at least four states will consider ballot questions on marijuana legalization. Pending proposals in Nevada, Maine and California would authorize recreational marijuana use, while Floridians will vote on whether to allow medical marijuana use.

Legalization of marijuana in the United States has spread rapidly over the last few years. Half of the states have already legalized marijuana in some form. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use. And the Democratic Party platform committee recently voted 81 to 80 to amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. The stated purpose of this proposed amendment is to “provid[e] a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

States with some form of legalized marijuana have implemented stringent regulatory and licensing schemes with regard to the who, what, where and how of marijuana possession, cultivation, and distribution. But policymakers have failed to address an important area: the marijuana industry’s energy and climate impacts. Although marijuana is a plant, it is not a “green” product when grown indoors. As more states – and, potentially, Congress – consider legalizing the marijuana industry, they should also adopt rules to make it more environmentally sustainable.

Edible marijuana products for sale in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Kent Kanouse/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Indoor marijuana farms are energy hogs

Indoor marijuana cultivation is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the United States, generating nearly US$6 billion in energy costs annually. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which carries out energy planning for the Columbia River Basin states (Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon), growing marijuana indoors consumes up to 5,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per kilogram of output. For comparison, aluminum production requires about 16 kilowatt-hours per kilogram.

Colorado’s experience demonstrates marijuana’s large energy footprint. Since the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, the industry has expanded rapidly there. In 2015 legal marijuana businesses in Colorado made nearly $1 billion in sales, up 42 percent from the previous year. And as marijuana businesses become more competitive and specialized, growers are moving their farms indoors to get a more controlled product.

Indoor cultivation requires electricity to power high-intensity lights, frequent air exchanges and ventilation, and to maintain consistent temperatures and humidity levels day and night. As a result, the state now has numerous indoor warehouses that consume huge quantities of electricity.

Experts estimate that a 5,000-square-foot indoor marijuana facility in Colorado consumes six times more electricity per square foot than an average commercial business, and 49 times more than an average residence. Last year Denver officials sought guidance from the Department of Energy on ways to curb the industry’s power requirements. Electricity use in Denver is rising by 1.2 percent yearly, and marijuana farms account for nearly half of the increase.

Colorado has set a goal of generating 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Currently, however, only 18 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources. The rest is generated from coal and natural gas.

Colorado Energy Office

On-site generation systems, such as rooftop solar arrays, and community-scale energy projects cannot produce enough electricity to meet marijuana growers’ energy needs. As a result, the marijuana industry is indirectly increasing Colorado’s reliance on fossil fuel.

Legalization provides some energy benefits. For example, it allows indoor cultivators to connect to existing electricity grids instead of relying on carbon-intensive gasoline and diesel generators. However, these benefits are swamped by the industry’s fast-growing electricity requirements.

Experts estimate that nationwide, indoor marijuana cultivation accounts for nearly 15 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually – more than the annual energy-related emissions of South Dakota, Delaware, Rhode Island and Vermont, or the District of Columbia. Public utility commissioners across the nation are discussing strategies for managing power demand from indoor pot growers.

Legalize and regulate

When states legalize marijuana cultivation, they establish detailed regulatory and licensing schemes governing who may sell, possess and cultivate the plant, where they may do so, and how much they must pay for licenses. Policymakers should also seize this opportunity to enact rules governing the industry’s climate and energy impacts.

California medical marijuana bottle. Scott Richard/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Since indoor growers consume such enormous amounts of electricity, policymakers should start by requiring indoor cultivators to consume only carbon-free energy sources or to pay a carbon fee until such measures can be implemented.

Boulder, Colorado is addressing this issue by implementing city and county licensing schemes that require indoor marijuana cultivators to use energy monitoring technology and routinely report their energy use. Growers must offset their energy use by utilizing 100 percent renewable energy, purchasing renewable energy credits, or paying a carbon fee. However, few other states or localities have followed Boulder’s lead.

Oregon has established a task force to study energy and water use for marijuana production. The group is scheduled to report its findings to the state legislature later this summer. Preliminary indications are that the task force will call on growers to follow energy best practices, but it is unclear whether it will recommend making this policy mandatory or merely a suggestion.

States that do not have enough renewable energy generation to meet the industry’s electricity demands, such as in Colorado, should take a two-pronged approach. First, they should require indoor growers to pay escalating carbon fees based on their electricity consumption. These funds should be used to support development of more efficient technology and climate-friendly electricity facilities.

Growing marijuana in greenhouses is one strategy to reduce electricity use.

Second, legislators should also require an exponential increase in the percentage of energy consumed by indoor growers from renewable energy sources via on site generation – such as rooftop solar – or community renewable energy facilities. This two-pronged approach would ensure growers do not become complacent just paying the fee.

The best time to address impacts of this magnitude is before they occur, not after a major industry is already established. Marijuana production is rapidly developing into an extremely lucrative industry that can afford to manage its impacts on the environment.

The ConversationGina Warren, Associate Professor of Law, University of Houston

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Now, Check Out:

This is How Snowden’s Leaks Affected the EU’s Data Privacy Decision

Love him or hate him, it turns out that Edward Snowden’s leaks were at the root of the EU Court of Justice’s irreversible ruling that because, based on the leaked materials, the US law does not provide sufficient safeguards for individual privacy, EU customer data cannot be transferred to databases located on servers in the US.

An excellent and detailed article on WIRED’s website provides the details:

A RULING BY the Europe Union’s highest court today may create enormous headaches for US tech companies like Google and Facebook. But it could also provide more robust privacy protections for European citizens. And they all have Edward Snowden to thank—or blame.

Up until now, these companies have been able to transfer data they collect from users in the European Union to servers in the US, a practice made possible by the EU’s executive branch’s so-called “Safe Harbor Decision” in 2000. Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the Safe Harbor Decision was invalid. The ruling cannot be appealed.

Now tech companies have to figure out what the ruling means. Facebook and other companies haven’t been found guilty of any wrongdoing. But quashing the Safe Harbor Decision could open the floodgates to privacy investigations and lawsuits.

Where does Snowden fit in?

The Safe Harbor Decision held that the US provided adequate safeguards for personal information and that no company transferring data from the EU to the US would be prosecuted for doing so. That determination was overruled today as a result of a legal complaint filed against Facebook in Ireland by Austrian activist Maximillian Schrems. Schrems argued that, based on information about the National Security Agency’s practices leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013, the US does not actually provide sufficient protection of private data and that Facebook therefore acted illegally by transferring his private data to its servers in the US.

This ruling will undoubtedly create some complex headaches for companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and likely even Amazon, as they will be forced to segregate their data storage for customers in the EU to be located on servers within the EU, which is a bit of a technical challenge, if not quite a nightmare.  Many companies automatically replicate their data to various locations around the world both for service performance and data redundancy for mitigating downtime and data loss due to individual server failures.

There are more details on the decision and what it means for online service companies in the detailed article on the WIRED website.


Source: – “Tech Companies Can Blame Snowden for Data Privacy Decision

Featured Photo Credit:  PLATON

The dark side of coffee: an unequal social and environmental exchange

Alexander J Myers, University of Kansas

The humble coffee bean is one of the most important and actively traded commodities in the world. It doesn’t take more than a glance at American coffee consumption stats to understand why.

In a 2015 Gallup poll, 64% of Americans reported drinking at least one cup of coffee per day and 2.7 on average. The United States imports about 2.8 billion pounds of green coffee every year, and Americans consume just over nine pounds of coffee per capita annually.

If you’re anything like me, your morning coffee is a necessity, so early in my graduate career I decided to do a little research on it. I found a fascinating and somewhat disturbing story encompassing ecology, economics, globalization and finance – one that all coffee drinkers should know about.


Labor 2.0: why we shouldn’t fear the ‘sharing economy’ and the reinvention of work

Bernhard Resch, University of St.Gallen

Uber suffered a legal blow this week when a California judge granted class action status to a lawsuit claiming the car-hailing service treats its drivers like employees, without providing the necessary benefits.

Up to 160,000 Uber chauffeurs are now eligible to join the case of three drivers demanding the company pay for health insurance and expenses such as mileage. Some say a ruling against the company could doom the business model of the on-demand or “sharing” economy that Uber, Upwork and TaskRabbit represent.

Whatever the outcome, it’s unlikely to reverse the most radical reinvention of work since the rise of industrialization – a massive shift toward self-employment typified by on-demand service apps and enabled by technology. That’s because it’s not a trend driven solely by these tech companies.

Workers themselves, especially millennials, are increasingly unwilling to accept traditional roles as cogs in the corporate machinery being told what to do. Today, 34% of the US workforce freelances, a figure that is estimated to reach 50% by 2020. That’s up from the 31% estimated by the Government Accountability Office in a 2006 study.

Many aren’t ready for the on-demand economy that Uber represents, such as these taxi drivers in Brazil.