Cannabis grows — legal or not — are far from business as usual for electric co's – The Cannabist

Published: Sep 12, 2017, 9:35 am • Updated: Sep 12, 2017, 11:18 am

WESTMINSTER — Since marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the standard meter read and utility line check aren’t that simple anymore.

Utilities have had to adapt on the fly to a surge of customers that bring with them heavier energy loads and heftier revenues; but they also have had to account for the unexpected, said representatives of Colorado’s electric providers at a Monday conference.

“It’s not all wine and roses,” said Paul Erickson, chief executive officer of Sangre de Cristo Electric Association cooperative.

Illegal grows operate within some of the counties Sangre de Cristo Electric serves in central Colorado — creating unexpected safety hazards such as guns being drawn on employees of the utility, Erickson said. The all-cash transactions from the legitimate enterprises pose security risks as well, he added.

“It puts us in a tough place, and it’s no-win,” he said.

The good, the bad and the ugly of marijuana legalization’s effects on the state’s electric utilities were put into the spotlight at a day-long conference hosted by the Colorado Rural Electric Association. The organization’s “Pot & Power” conference delved into topics such as energy demands in cannabis cultivation; sustainability efforts; safety risks and concerns; legal and enforcement best practices; and potential legislative measures.

Following the recent economic recession, low or declining energy loads were seemingly the new normal for utilities in Colorado.

Then came the “bright, shiny exception to the rule,” said Dan Hodges, government affairs liaison at Colorado Springs Utilities.

“The marijuana industry is using a heck of a lot of power,” he said.

Utilities have to walk a fine line, said Jeff Bauman, electrical engineer for the Cowlitz Public Utility District in Washington state, which voted

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