In a decision that illustrates just how far marijuana has moved into the mainstream, California’s largest public utility said it would now offer pot growers the same discounts on energy that it provides other farmers.
The decision by PG&E comes four months after California voters passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational use of marijuana, and two decades after voters approved medical use of cannabis.
“Cannabis is a legal crop in our state like almonds and tomatoes,” Deborah Affonsa, vice president of customer service at PG&E, said in a statement released Wednesday.
Sonoma Clean Power, a public agency that purchases and supplies electricity to most Sonoma County homes and businesses, said it would follow suit and offer agricultural rates to marijuana growers in the region. It expects to expand services to Mendocino County in June.
PG&E’s move is a small but noteworthy sign of marijuana’s normalization, said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, a trade group that represents cannabis farmers. It comes as cities, counties and state agencies craft new rules to regulate an industry that once operated in the shadows of the law.
“It’s another one of those reminders that we are making progress,” he said.
Marijuana farmers long have pushed for recognition as agricultural producers, so it just makes sense for them to be eligible for PG&E’s agricultural energy programs, Allen said.
To be eligible for agricultural energy rates, marijuana farmers must have marijuana growing permits issued by their local jurisdictions. At least 70 percent of their energy consumption must be for direct agriculture uses, like growing crops and pumping water for irrigation, according to PG&E. It must be for cultivation, not the processing of pot into other types of products, officials said. It does not apply to people growing six plants for personal use inside a private home, officials said.
PG&E spokeswoman Andrea Menniti said there is no set discount rate for agriculture. The rates will vary, business by business, she said.
The savings could be significant, Allen said — as much as 40 percent to 60 percent off a grower’s electrical bills.
The savings reaped by agricultural users will not affect rates charged to other PG&E customers, Menniti said.
PG&E made the decision after meeting with representatives of the emerging legal cannabis industry and learning about their needs, Affonsa said.
“Now that cannabis is in California’s future, our next step is to work with these new agricultural customers and make this industry as energy efficient as possible,” she said.
The electricity discounts will apply both to indoor and outdoor growers, although that could change. Allen said there was some discussion at this week’s Public Utility Commission meeting of charging higher rates to indoor growers, who require grow lights and use significantly more energy than those who cultivate under sunlight.
In 2015, some 200 people in Portland lost power because two nearby indoor marijuana operations overloaded the circuits. It was one of seven such outages suffered by Pacific Power between July and November of that year, the Oregonian reported.
Indoor versus outdoor cultivation is one of the most divisive arguments among cannabis cultivators, Allen said.
Outdoor growers contend their way is healthier and ecologically superior to indoor growing, while indoor growers accuse the outdoor cultivators of using too much water and creating environmental problems with their runoff, he said.