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North Coast: Pot-growing power grab

  • Indoor marijuana-growing operation in Mendocino County in 2010. (PD File)

Marijuana advocates are fond of calling their favorite weed a natural product, the epitome of a green commodity. But commercial pot cultivation — increasingly done indoors with 1,000-watt lamps substituting for sunlight — has a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint, according to a UC Berkeley energy analyst's report.

California's indoor pot crop, estimated at more than 2,000 tons a year, consumes $3 billion worth of electricity, or as much as 1 million average homes. It also produces as many greenhouse gas emissions as 1 million cars, according to the report by analyst Evan Mills, titled “Energy Up in Smoke.”

A single marijuana joint represents two pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, the same as running an ordinary 100-watt light bulb for 30 hours in California, the report said.

Humboldt County pot activists, a Sonoma County medicinal marijuana dispensary owner, an Oakland pot lab operator and a narcotics officer agree that indoor pot cultivation consumes an inordinate share of kilowatts.

“Medical cannabis is supposed to be the greenest of all green industries,” said Robert Jacob, proprietor of the Peace In Medicine Healing Center dispensaries in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa. “Instead, it's one of the largest (environmental) impacts that we have.”

In marijuana-rich Humboldt, Mendocino and Lake counties, average household power consumption ranges from 20 percent to 40 percent above the norm for the PG&E service area. Sonoma County households match the systemwide average, according to PG&E.

All along the North Coast, pot's power grab is gaining attention.

“We here think of it as our Frankenstein monster,” said Charley Custer of Redway, in the heart of Humboldt County's pot belt.

He's part of a group called Grow it in the Sun, formed a year ago to discourage medical marijuana users from puffing indoor-grown pot.

“We live in an agricultural paradise,” Custer said, recalling the birth of Humboldt's marijuana industry in the 1970s, originally all outdoors. Indoor growing “just seems literally insane to us,” he said.

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