New Mexico’s climate can reduce the carbon footprint of growing cannabis
When New Mexico lawmakers considered a bill that eventually became the Cannabis Regulation Act, one of the main topics was water use. Ultimately, lawmakers agreed to require cannabis growers to show that they have legal access to water.
But one topic that was not addressed, at least not in detail, was how much energy it takes to run potentially hundreds of growers across the state. A study published in March this year showed that greenhouse gases and energy use have increased as states move towards adult legalization of cannabis. The study also showed that some of the areas of higher energy consumption were in the Southwest and Midwestern United States. While state regulators don’t have specific energy restrictions on cannabis growers, two people familiar with the New Mexico cannabis industry said the state’s climate is likely to play a key role in keeping cannabis’ carbon footprint small.
The study earlier this year found that high greenhouse gases and excessive energy consumption are caused by indoor growing, where air conditioning relies on fans, powerful lamps and carbon dioxide produced.
A spokesman for the state’s regulatory and licensing department, which oversees the state’s cannabis control department, said there are currently no restrictions or guidelines on energy use.
Susan Torres, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, said that while there are currently no restrictions on cannabis energy use, the department will be “looking for ways to monitor.” [growers’] Energy effects on the state. ”
“It’s important to note that the industry’s carbon footprint is tied to the electricity mix and New Mexico is already on the road to carbon emissions with the passage of the Energy Transition Act,” said Torres. “New Mexico has already begun encouraging local businesses to install solar panels through initiatives such as the Solar Market Development Tax Credit, aimed at making solar systems more affordable.”
However, Wylie Atherton, the director of cultivation at medical cannabis producer Seven Point Farm, said that New Mexico’s sunny days and general climate make the state a good place to grow outdoors, as opposed to indoor growing, which has more additional lighting, Requires dehumidifier and artificial wind.
“Here in New Mexico in particular, we’re really well suited to having significantly lower energy consumption,” said Atherton.
Atherton said after a nationwide crackdown on outdoor growing in the 1970s, many people began moving their illegal plants indoors, which in turn created the need for an artificial environment that mimicked the conditions outside. He said that growing indoors can provide “quite a fine level of control” to the grower and that after decades of growing indoors, some New Mexico growers are moving to greenhouses or entirely outdoors for fear of severe criminal penalties.
Atherton also said that growing indoors is a far cry from traditional farming.
“[Indoor grows] look more like a data center than a farm, ”he said. “They have to illuminate every square meter that they have built into their warehouse or whatever their manufacturing facility looks like. Every square meter that they illuminate consumes energy, not just for lighting, but also for environmental control. “
But even in New Mexico it is not possible to grow completely outdoors permanently. Shorter periods of light and sub-zero temperatures in winter have pushed many plants into greenhouses with minimal additional lighting, Atherton said.
But even if growers of a plant that Atheron called a “light-hungry” plant are less scrupulous about energy consumption and its effects on climate change, the money can drive them outdoors.
Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Ultra Health, said there was no point in running a large extension in a warehouse.
“We started off with a warehouse-style extension that had lights on a commercial building, and it’s a bad model,” Rodriguez said. “It started like this in Colorado, and they learned very quickly that it wasn’t economical.”
But Rodriguez said it was more doable for smaller growers, and he anticipates many companies with micro-business licenses will choose to grow indoors.
But scaling up operations, Rodriguez said, will ultimately be difficult for those who choose to grow inside.
[Outdoor growing] has the ability to be scalable, ”said Rodriguez. “When you use a building in an urban area, you’re pretty much limited to that size of building.”
But it’s still unclear exactly how big New Mexico’s cannabis industry will be. There are currently a few more than 30 licensed medical cannabis producers in the state with varying acreages. State regulators have until January 1, 2022 to start issuing licenses, and the law requires legal sales to begin no later than April 1, 2022. It will likely take months to reveal data on the effects of cannabis on energy use or greenhouse gases in New Mexico.
But Rodriguez predicts that indoor growing will be a thing of the past in a few years.
“Within a decade, and it could be five years, I think it is very likely that you will not grow a single warehouse in New Mexico.”