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Zapped by indoor grows

Pacific Power has warned customers planning on cultivating marijuana indoors to have their electrical systems checked before turning on the grow lights.

Since July 1, seven indoor grow operations have overloaded equipment and caused outages, mostly in the northern part of the state. Homeowners were billed on average $5,000 for overburdening and damaging power company equipment, Pacific Power said.

To prevent these issues, Pacific Power urges people to call first to make sure the service provided to a house can handle the additional load and to hire a licensed contractor to upgrade electrical systems in a house.

"If there is any concern about capacity, make sure that we go out to take a look,” said Monte Mendenhall, regional spokesman for Pacific Power.

Mendenhall said that the power grid in Southern Oregon can generally handle increased demand from indoor gardens.

“We would have to look at it on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Mendenhall said he didn’t know of any situations in Southern Oregon where an outage was caused by the power required for an indoor pot operation.

He said it’s difficult to tell whether a possible ban on outdoor marijuana grows in Medford would lead to a big increase in service from people growing their plants inside, noting that it would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. 

Pacific Power will check the transformer, the lines coming into the house and the circuit-breaker box to make sure they can handle the additional load.

When Pacific Power representatives come out to a home, they’re concerned about the electricity capacity, not the pot garden itself or whether local ordinances might prohibit it.

“That’s law enforcement’s responsibility,” Mendenhall said.

Local contractors have upgraded panels in some houses to 400 amps rather than the more common 200 amps to handle the additional load.

A typical four-light operation requires as much electricity as 29 refrigerators, according to Pacific Power.

A Pacific Power representative can be reached at 888-221-7070. The utility will ask a customer to complete a short questionnaire about the equipment that will be installed. An estimator may need to come to a house and analyze the equipment to determine whether the service has to be upgraded.

The utility says a small grow operation likely would need its own circuit breaker, similar to one required for a hot tub or dryer.

Randy Bates, owner of Logtown Electric LLC in Jacksonville, said he’s gotten calls about electrical systems for indoor pot gardens but hasn’t installed one yet.

He said there are many different things to consider when you’re putting more load on your electrical system, including adding circuit breakers, possibly upgrading the panel and installing bigger wires. Other considerations are the additional heat generated by the system and taking precautions to prevent fires.

He said a 200-amp panel might be adequate for grow lights if the house also uses gas for heating, hot water and a stove. He said most wiring in bedrooms isn’t sufficient to handle the load of grow lights.

If a 400 amp panel is required, he said the base cost could be about $5,000, with additional money that might be required for wires, plugs and other equipment.

Councilor Daniel Bunn said that in the near future, the city will be considering an ordinance banning outdoor grows and possibly indoor grows as well. 

He said that homeowners need to be responsible and ensure that a grow operation is being installed correctly and adheres to building safety requirements. 

“For better or worse, it’s legal now, and you have to follow the rules,” Bunn said. 

Bunn said the utilities are usually very helpful in guiding customers who want to increase the amount of service they require. 

Even if Medford bans outdoor and indoor grows, Bunn said it might be difficult to enforce the indoor growing ban, and police wouldn’t be spending their time going door to door looking for violators. 

“In general, it’s not a police matter but is a more of a building safety matter,” he said. 

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.

A typical four-light marijuana growing operation requires as much electricity as 29 refrigerators, according to Pacific Power. Mail Tribune file photo