Marijuana is Colorado’s newest cash crop. Between January and June of 2015, more than 112,000 pounds of bud were sold in the state. The Denver Post reported in October that monthly sales of marijuana in Colorado soared to over $100 million.
But growing marijuana requires loads of electricity. Young plants require intense light for the majority of a day. In a vegetative state, the plants need 18 hours of light a day — which drops to only 12 hours per day when they flower. Fans churn constantly to keep the plants from getting too hot under the bright lights.
In 2014, Colorado grow operations consumed as much energy as 35,000 houses, according to a Bloomberg Business report.
That kind of electricity has a hefty price tag. John Rotherham, owner of Nature’s Herbs and Wellness, estimates he pays between $20,000 and $25,000 a month for electricity at one of his grow houses.
As demand for Colorado ganja rises, utilities and growers are looking for ways to make grow houses more energy efficient. New technologies have begun offering solutions, Rotherham said.
“When I first got in this business the lighting companies weren’t allowed to do business with us because federally it’s against the law,” he said. “Now the lighting industry is all about this industry.”
To save on electricity bills, some growers are turning to the largest free source of energy available: the sun. Going back to old-fashioned greenhouses cuts out many of the energy-intensive lights other indoor cultivators rely on, says Tim Beall, chief operations officer of GrowCo. Beall boasts that his new 91,000 square-foot greenhouse in Pueblo County, Colorado will be the most energy-efficient cannabis operation in the state.
“Overall we’re going to have 75 percent lower cost of production than you have in an indoor growing facility,” he says.
Marijuana takes more than light. Cultivators need to keep temperatures in the growhouses consistent, and keep the plants from overheating. That usually means turning on lots of fans. But Beall’s facility is looking at swamp coolers instead, which use less energy.
“Ten years from now you’re going to see all of the indoor growing facilities that are inefficient and have four times the cost and ten times the energy cost and they’re all going to start converting into greenhouses,” Beall says.