Robert Grandt works in the grow room at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver on March 11. Marijuana growing facilities contributed to the city's energy use increase. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

Marijuana growing spikes Denver electricity demand

Xcel Energy utility officials say lighting companies working with marijuana growers are testing LED lamps that require less electricity

GOLDEN — Surging electricity consumption by Colorado’s booming marijuana industry is sabotaging Denver’s push to use less energy — just as the White House perfects a Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution.

Citywide electricity use has been rising at the rate of 1.2 percent a year, and 45 percent of that increase comes from marijuana-growing facilities, Denver officials said Wednesday.

Denver has a goal of capping energy use at 2012 levels. Electricity is a big part of that.

The latest Xcel Energy data show cannabis grow facilities statewide, the bulk in Denver, used as much as 200 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2014, utility officials said. City officials said 354 grow facilities in Denver used about 121 million kwh in 2013, up from 86 million kwh at 351 facilities in 2012.

“Of course we want to grow economically. But, as we do that, we’d like to save energy,” city sustainability strategist Sonrisa Lucero said.

She and other Denver officials joined 30 business energy services and efficiency leaders seeking U.S. Department of Energy guidance Wednesday at a forum in Golden. Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr said feds will promote best practices and provide technical help through an Office of Technology Transitions.

“It’s a big issue for us,” Lucero told Orr. “We really do need some assistance in finding some good technology.”

Orr was “turning over in my mind,” he said, “how we would address that to Congress.”

When the EPA later this summer unveils the Clean Power Plan for state-by-state carbon cuts and installation of energy-saving technology, utilities are expected to accelerate a shift away from coal-generated electricity toward cleaner sources, such as natural gas, wind and solar.

Until they can replace more coal-fired plants, the nation’s utilities increasingly are trying to manage demand by, for example, offering rebates to customers who conserve electricity.

Colorado for years has been encouraging cuts in carbon emissions by requiring utilities to rely more on renewable sources.

Yet electricity use statewide has been increasing by 1 percent to 2 percent a year, due in part to population growth, said Jeffrey Ackermann, director of the Colorado Energy Office.

The rising electricity demand means more opportunities to save money by using energy more efficiently, Ackermann said. “We’re not going to compel people to reduce their usage. … But we’re going to try to bring efficiency into the conversation.”

Colorado’s marijuana sector, in particular, is growing rapidly, relying on electricity to run lights that stimulate plant growth, as well as air-conditioning and de-humidifiers. The lights emit heat, raising demand for air conditioning, which requires more electricity.

“How do you capture their attention long enough to say: Hey, if you make this investment now, it could pay back in the future, ” Ackermann said, referring to possibilities for better lights.

Southwest Energy Efficiency Project director Howard Geller said new adjustable light-emitting diode (LED) lights have emerged that don’t put out heat. Companies installing these wouldn’t require so much air-cooling and could cut electricity use, Geller said.

Lighting companies are working with pot companies to test the potential for LED lamps to reduce electricity use without hurting plants, Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said. Xcel is advising companies on how much electricity different lights use, he said.

Denver officials currently aren’t considering energy-efficiency rules for the industry, said Elizabeth Babcock, manager of air, water and climate for the city. Marijuana-growing facilities in 2013 used 1.85 percent of total electricity consumed in Denver.

“We see many opportunities in all sectors,” Babcock said. “Energy efficiency lowers the cost of doing business and there are lots of opportunities to cut energy waste in buildings, transportation and industry.”

Bruce Finley: 303-954-1700, bfinley@denverpost.com or twitter.com/finleybruce

This story was first published on DenverPost.com