Kevin Short, the general manager of the Anza Electric Cooperative, shared a wealth of information at the Cannabis Emergency Regulation Committee meeting, Thursday, Feb. 22.
He addressed the effects of the explosion of large-scale marijuana cultivation on the rural electric cooperative grid.
California has only three electric cooperatives, according the California Energy Commission. By definition, independent rural cooperatives are member-owned, nonprofit groups that serve small communities. The Anza Electric Cooperative is one of these types of utility providers.
According to the cooperative’s website, Anza Electric Cooperative, which was first energized in 1955, is a member of Touchstone Energy – the national brand of electric cooperatives – providing power to the communities of Anza, Garner Valley, Pinyon Pines and parts of Aguanga. The cooperative provides energy to 3,900 homes, schools and businesses and 20 irrigation loads. Their service area is nearly 700 square miles of high desert with an elevation of roughly 4,000 feet.
The AEC serves about 4,000 members, utilizes 5,200 electric meters and shows 4,700 active services, 93 percent of which are residential.
The power that the AEC offers to its members comes up the mountain from Southern California Edison transmission lines and the amount of power transferred is limited to what the infrastructure can safely handle. Currently, this number is just about 14 megawatts.
Studies conducted by the AEC indicate a load forecast that is accelerating way beyond what was predicted several years ago. Load growth for between the years 2015 and 2017 revealed an increase in total energy sales of 23 percent since 2011, and that figure will continue to climb.
AEC residential energy use for the summer of 2017 totals include two hundred, 4.26 percent, services used 14.42 percent of total energy and 30.64 percent, services used 4.43 percent of total energy.
The highest summer residential service used 25 times the average energy, with 7.5 times the average demand.
Short said that the highest bill generated is an average of $5,000 a month.
When asked if these figures were related to the increase in cannabis cultivation, Short agreed that they were. Virtually all known growers are connected to residential meters on land zoned as rural residential.
According to professional engineers Jesse Remillard and Nick Collins of Energy & Resource Solutions “Trends and Observations of Energy Use in the Cannabis Industry,” a 2017 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry, typical indoor cannabis grow energy requirements include 5 percent for space heating, 2 percent for CO2 injection, 3 percent for water handling, 1 percent for drying the product, 21 percent for air conditioning, 30 percent for ventilation and dehumidification and 38 percent for lighting. Indoor cultivation is generally accepted as the most energy intensive cultivation method, but is also potentially the most water-efficient method.
The energy demands of lights, motors for fans and pumps and air conditioning are generally agreed to be energy intensive and expensive for the energy consumer/cultivator. These demands are stressing the grid locally, even as the AEC implements plans to maintain power for everyone.
Growing cannabis indoors is a process where space conditions, temperature and humidity are tightly controlled to optimize product quality and prevent crop loss due to pests, mold and mildew. The quality and amount of light provided is the primary driver of the final yield. Growers can use seeds or clone “mother” plants by taking small cuttings and rooting them. The seedlings are usually grown in racks stacked vertically with fluorescent lighting, T5HO, until they are mature enough to be re-potted and placed in grow rooms with high-intensity discharge fixtures. The plants are cultivated in a vegetative state for 18 to 24 hours of light per day until the photo-period is shortened, which induces the plant to begin flowering. A full cycle from clone to harvested plant takes three to four months but can vary depending on the particular strain of cannabis, according to Caulkins, Cohen and Zamarra 2014.
But the impact of indoor-grown cannabis is having an adverse effect on the ability of the local energy provider to serve its community, Short said.
Another consideration is electrical energy theft, which is not just a crime of suburban growers; it is happening in Anza, Short said. Many of the locations where this theft was detected were cannabis cultivations. The annual cost to AEC members of electricity theft is 5 percent of gross revenue. This figure was $533,603 in 2017, or a per member loss of $133.40 per year. All members are sharing the cost of theft, which was committed by a very few.
Electricity theft is a dangerous game as well, causing unsafe conditions that could start fires or kill with electric shock. Short shared images of found electricity theft at the committee meeting. AEC employees are specially trained to detect and handle these situations safely.
The AEC has an obligation to serve legal loads in the franchise service territory. The policy allows for disconnection of service for unsafe conditions, nonpayment and energy theft.
Some growers are even cultivating a large crop and abandoning the site, leaving a huge electric bill unpaid, Short said.
“What we’ve seen with some of the grow operations is these folks will come in, set up shop. They’ll run for a while, they’ll stop paying their bill, and their friend comes in and takes over the service,” Short said. “Well, we can’t charge the friend that guy’s bill, so he takes over the service. He runs for a while, he stops paying his bill and we disconnect him. These guys do this over and over. It’s a great game until we figure out who they are and we stop turning them back on. Everybody has to pay for that. It’s not right.”
The costs to the members include increased demand, which translates into increased import costs – the more that is needed at peak hours, the more it costs. Increased capacity means infrastructure upgrades far ahead of earlier forecasts, increasing costs to the cooperative. Cost causation – transitory loads will not pay their fair share. Rate impacts include upward pressure on the rate structure and socialization of cost.
“The AEC has experienced an unprecedented increase in energy and capacity requirements in the last three years,” according to an AEC report.
“We have completely run out of capacity expansion space 10 years ahead of forecast. We have experienced a substantial increase in energy theft. We have experienced more overloaded and damaged equipment in the last three years than in the last 20 combined. Our costs have substantially increased due to earlier than planned expansion of system capacity, outage calls and operating expenses,” Short said.
The AEC is addressing the massive increases as quickly and efficiently as possible, he said. They have contracted with Southern California Edison to increase import capacity to 19 megawatts, a 27 percent increase. The main substation upgrade is under way at this time, and a new substation design and build has begun. Short was asked if another transmission line could be built, and he replied that the cost involved is prohibitive, so that is not a possibility.
One of the impacts of large-scale cannabis cultivation on the Anza Valley is these effects on the energy system. This and other issues are being studied carefully by the CERC.
For more information about the Anza Valley Municipal Advisory Council and CERC, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AnzaValleyMAC.
To report electricity theft, contact the AEC at (951) 763-4333.
Diana Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.