Parking lot solar panels installed at Lume Cannabis’ Jackson, Mich. dispensary. Credit: Michigan Solar Solutions

Michigan’s cannabis workers and advocates acknowledge that craft growing consumes a large amount of energy. There is no consensus on how to alleviate the problem. 

Energy consumption has been a significant problem for the industry, both in terms of the environmental impact and the operating costs. In some states, the energy cost of growing one ounce of cannabis indoors can be roughly the same as burning 7 to 16 gallons of gasoline. 

John Jevahirian, commercial sales manager of Michigan Solar Solutions, says he talks to craft growers that prefer energy efficient systems such as solar panels and LED lights, but they are often discouraged from doing so because of tax and regulatory policies. 

“These growers know that their largest expense on the balance sheet is energy output. Growing is a very high, intensive use of energy,” Jevahirian said. “I hope that more people become motivated to do it.”

Jevahirian claims that at least 50 different cannabis companies ranging from growing operations to dispensaries have sought solar panels from his company, with one client being the now defunct Consano Provisioning Center in Mount Pleasant. However, because so much uncertainty surrounds developments and whether or not local governments will provide tax waivers as incentives, operators never go for it.

“People don’t go into areas where they are not sure they’ll be successful. Oftentimes, they figure that the juice is not worth the squeeze,” Jevahirian says.

SInce most Midwest grow operations are indoor, the long harvest cycles require large quantities of electricity to keep the lights on. In addition, to create ideal moisture and temperature levels, cultivators rely on heating and cooling systems as well as ventilation to sustain the crops. Energy use can add up to half of annual operating expenses, even for small growing facilities. 

Even small caregiver operations are likely sucking down a lot of energy. Last June, the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency posted a finding that growing the maximum 72-plant caregiver limit could result in energy usage equivalent to the average use of 10.75 houses.

Some Michigan cannabis operators have sought out more efficient energy saving measures. 305 Farms opened a new 44,000 facility in Lawrence that received a $849K energy efficiency rebate from Consumer Energy earlier this week. They achieved their savings by using high efficiency lights, tankless water heaters, and high efficiency HVAC units.

Other companies in the state such as Enthaltec sell specialized HVAC units that use outside air to cool and dehumidify the flower in a growing facility naturally without the use of a humidifier. The company says its unit can cut electricity costs to 75% of a normal HVAC unit.

Rick Thompson, executive director of Michigan NORML, called on Michigan growers to reduce their energy consumption not just for environmental conservation, but to ensure they remain viable businesses. 

“If you designed your setup without energy conservation, it’s going to come back and bite you,” Thompson said. “It’s still an industry in its infancy. In reality, we are still learning what is the best approach and what isn’t. But with so many growers, it’s a race to the bottom and people have to figure out what is best for business. You can be the best grower in the world, but if you have no business skills or knowledge of how to best spend your, then you won’t last long.”

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Trey Arline is Grown In’s Midwest Reporter. He was most recently with the Daily Herald, but has also reported for Vegas PBS, The Nevada Independent, and the Associated Press.