Legal indoor marijuana growing operations are a new electrical safety concern in both Oregon and Washington.
"What most people don't realize is that growing marijuana is a very intense power use," said Roger Blank, Pacific Power's director of safety. "From a power use stand point, even a small operation of four plants with standard lights is like hooking up 29 refrigerators that run 24/7."
Outside homes or businesses, the issue is possibly overloading the local power grid. Pacific Power has had seven incidents in Oregon since July 1 where the added usage attributed to home-based growing operations have overloaded local equipment and caused outages. In these cases, after an investigation, the utility has billed those responsible an average of $5,000 each for the outsized load which overburdened and damaged local equipment.
Blank advises caution as you set up an indoor grow operation. "Hire a licensed electrician," he said. "You will probably need a dedicated circuit just as you would for a dryer or a hot tub. Don't use extension cords and be careful about generating excess heat in an enclosed space, which is an extreme fire hazard."
Depending on the capacity of transformers and other equipment which supplies a local area, one or two in-house grow operations on the same circuit can overtax the local grid, damage equipment and cause an outage in the area. Having a commercial growing operation, like any new business use, requires formal requests so that Pacific Power can assess electrical needs.
"Whenever you are contemplating greatly increasing your energy use, you should give us a call," said Blank. "This goes for adding a sauna or some shop equipment. With the law changes, this whole new area is opening up. We just want to urge caution. A grow operation, with intense lights and ventilation, is using electricity around the clock."
Pacific Power encouraged customers that if they are planning to expand energy use, for whatever purpose, it is always a good idea to call them. A customer representative will set a customer up with a simple questionnaire in which they outline the new equipment they are installing and estimate how many hours a day it will be in use. If needed, an estimator will pay a visit and analyze the equipment near the home to see what might be needed to accommodate the added usage.
In most cases, no capacity upgrade is required. If new equipment is needed, it is possible there may be an additional charge to help pay for the upgrade.
"That isn't anyone's favorite part," said Blank. "But hoping to sneak in under the fence can be expensive if you end up damaging equipment and inconveniencing your neighbors."
Being energy efficient is also important. Stores that sell the specialized equipment used for in-home grow operations can offer advice on efficiency. Insulating and ventilating spaces can be designed for maximum efficiency.
"No one should be shy about seeking advice on how to do your in-house grow safely and efficiently," said Blank. "And that includes letting us know when your power needs are about to expand greatly."