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Pot growers could raise Ashland power rates

Before recreational marijuana becomes legal July 1, the city of Ashland wants to get rules in place to keep growers from using so much power that it jacks up rates for all residents.

“Indoor marijuana growing operations are intensive — I would even say extreme — electricity consumers,” City Administrator Dave Kanner said in testimony to a recent local government listening session of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates legal cannabis.

Growers, of course, will be expected to pay their own power bills, but the problem is that excessive power use inside Ashland, a city-owned utility that buys energy from the Bonneville Power Administration, could cause the city to jump a category, from Tier 1 to Tier 2, which would increase rates for all the power it buys, said Kanner.

“A large-scale, commercial, indoor grow operation can use hundreds of 1,000-watt metal halide light bulbs. Oregon has no energy-efficiency standards for indoor agricultural operations, which is something the Legislature may need to address, but in the meantime I believe the OLCC has the opportunity to address this issue as it applies specifically to large-scale indoor marijuana growing operations.”

Kanner, in an email, said the issue of energy efficiency of indoor pot grows is getting virtually no attention. OLCC Chairman Rob Patridge said Kanner was the first person to bring up the issue.

“This is of particular concern to municipal electric utilities and public utility districts that, like Ashland, purchase their power from BPA," Kanner wrote. "We purchase power under a tiered wholesale rate structure whereby our wholesale cost goes up to what’s called our Tier 2 rate if power consumption exceeds a certain threshold. Needless to say, a single large-scale indoor growing operation could easily push Ashland (or other municipal utilities or PUDs) into Tier 2 rates. This then becomes a cost burden that is spread across the entire customer base; I would suggest unfairly so.”

Kanner’s assessment of the looming problem puts Ashland City Council on notice that he will present them with proposals to address the issue, but nothing is on the table yet, said City Councilor Carol Voisin. Kanner has told the council that his research into Colorado and Arcata, Calif., show energy usage jumped there after legalization.

“I don’t know how we can tax just the growers,” Voisin said. “We’re not ready for this. I have real questions about how we control (energy use) with outside growers also. And the odor issue, which we get up to a dozen complaints a year about from medical marijuana.”

Since voters legalized pot statewide, the Legislature should pass statewide energy-efficiency standards for growers, Kanner noted. The issue has been much-discussed at meetings of statewide associations of municipal utilities and public utility districts, he said.

Energy-efficiency standards for state-licensed indoor grows would create incentives for manufacturers to produce fixtures that meet new codes — and utilities could adjust standards to go along with them.

Kanner also told the OLCC there should be performance standards for lighting, security, heating and ventilation for odor control — and a ban on large outdoor growing sites inside urban growth boundaries.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.