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Everyone Wants More Efficient Lights

Tim Cullen, CEO of Colorado Harvest Company in Denver, Colorado, is willing to give any kind of grow light a try.

“Really, anyone who will give us a light to test out, we’ll test it out,” he said. It’s all part of the quest for efficient lighting, and for Cullen, the quest may be at an end.

That’s because Colorado Harvest Company recently decided to switch from fluorescent bulbs to LED’s, a decision Cullen expects to be a winner. “For the first time in four years, I’m looking forward to that bill going down a little bit,” he said. “I bet it drops several thousand dollars a month.”

In Denver, the city’s electric utility, Xcel Energy, has become part of the quest for efficient lighting as well, and will cover up to 40 percent of a new LED lighting project in hopes of conserving power. It’s not government giving the cannabis industry a handout, it’s driven by the measurable power demand of the cannabis industry.

Between 2012 and 2013, the city noticed a 0.5 percent increase in energy use, city-wide, due to cannabis grows. Then from 2013-2014 (the most recently available statistics,) the power demand from cannabis growers increased by double-digit percentages. Xcel, like power utilities in Oregon and Washington, is just trying to keep up.

Emily Backus, sustainability advisor with the Denver Department of Environmental Health, says that the agency’s interest was piqued by the 2012 statistics. “It raised a lot of eyebrows,” she said. “It helped us push forward and say ‘we need to keep working on this.” They started a working group two years ago to discuss the topic, and released a city-wide report on how growers can save on lights and cooling. Another report, from the Colorado Energy Office, is expected this fall.

Some growers have moved away from electric lights altogether, like Denver grower/dispensary Green Dragon. Company owner Ryan Milligan retooled a vegetable greenhouse to grow cannabis in, and found early on they had to redo the entire roof to let in more light. “I think we’re through the worst of the pain now, and starting to reap the rewards,” he said. “It’s definitely good from a cost standpoint. It helps us deliver a lower cost to the consumer.” Letting the sun do its magic has dropped their light usage by 80 percent.

Some are even eschewing indoor operations entirely, and growing outdoors, but that carries a bunch of risks. Crops face rain and hail, and there’s only one growing season. Without the tight environmental controls of an indoor grow, outdoor growers are also more limited in what strains they can grow.

Cullen compares it to another major change that Colorado has seen, the rise of microbreweries. “People who like the microbrewery beer won’t drink that mass-produced beer,” he said. “And people who like the mass-produced beer don’t like the microbrewery beer. But they find themselves next to each other on the shelf in the liquor store. I think there’s room for all of it.”

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