A Chronic Problem: Taming Energy Costs and Impacts from Marijuana Cultivation


“Marijuana . . . but why?”

So asks a character in the classic 2004 film Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. What does marijuana matter to the clean energy industry? And what does it matter specifically to EQ Research, a consulting firm focused on clean energy policies and technologies?

Well, marijuana production uses a lot of energy. Large lights, dehumidification, air conditioning, and laboratory-rated processing equipment use energy at a similar level of energy intensity as a data center—which can be a hundred times that of an office building (see Evan Mills’ classic article). And the number of states that allow marijuana cultivation and sale for medical or recreational purposes is growing. California may legalize recreational marijuana in the near future—imagine adding all of that energy usage to its other natural resource constraints, like water.

Accordingly, EQ Research is pleased to release A Chronic Problem: Taming Energy Costs and Impacts from Marijuana Cultivation.

Before joining EQ Research’s Denver office, I was the Energy Strategy Coordinator for the City of Boulder, and I spent a lot of time working to reduce the carbon emissions created by energy consumption in the community. One major question that I couldn’t answer at the time was how much marijuana cultivation actually impacted the city’s ability to achieve its aggressive carbon reduction goals. This got me curious about what it meant for the utility industry as a whole. When energy sales are down due to federal efficiency standards and shifts in the nation’s economy, wouldn’t marijuana businesses be pretty appealing to utilities? The truth is more complicated.

Currently, I monitor public utility commission (PUC) proceedings in several western states, including Colorado, Washington, and Alaska. I started to notice small things here and there—an admission that marijuana businesses may create uncertainty for retail sales forecasts by Black Hills Energy in Colorado, and a series of filings by Washington utilities who purchase power from the federal Bonneville Power Administration clarifying that marijuana growers are not eligible for federally funded energy efficiency rebates.

Over the last few years, I’ve spoken with some brilliant people in the marijuana industry, government, and consulting who are grappling with the environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation, including from energy use. There are practices and ways of thinking in the industry that will need to shift to address this, but the cards are also somewhat stacked against them when it comes to information, financing, and incentives. If the industry is blooming, it should be able to access the full range of energy efficiency and renewable energy tools that are available to other types of businesses.

Our paper offers a series of recommendations to improve the marijuana industry’s clean energy options. You can also view a two-page infographic summary here. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at kcrandall (at) eq-research.com.