Renewable energy is making San Francisco cannabis grows super-green. As cannabis enters mainstream commerce, shoppers expect higher standards for eco-friendliness.

April 2, 2018 Carolyne Zinko

As cannabis enters mainstream commerce, shoppers expect higher standards for eco-friendliness.

Rising to the occasion, Sense, an indoor cannabis grower located in SoMa, has announced that it has switched to 100 percent renewable energy. Sense is using the city’s Public Utilities Commission program CleanPowerSF.

Sustainability is important to company founder Steve Griffith, who said 100 percent renewable power is slightly more expensive, but not prohibitively costly. Sense’s cultivator, Rob King, was also looking for community support.

“I wanted to counter any argument against indoor grows — the argument is they use a ton of energy for flower production, which is true,” King said of the company’s 2,000 square-foot-operation. “With the PUC program allowing us to purchase 100 percent renewable energy, we’re able to support those goals of the city.”

Over in Denver, Colorado, indoor cannabis farms now use four percent of all energy the city consumes. Similar programs in Denver incentivize efficiency. By contrast, black market growers are known for stealing power from the grid.

Some 80,000 residential and commercial customers — including LinkedIn and Salesforce (excluding the new Salesforce tower) — participate in the CleanPowerSF program, said Tyler Gamble, deputy communications director for the SFPUC.

Under the partnership between the SFPUC and Pacific Gas & Electric, customers are getting solar, wind or other renewable energy that is purchased by the PUC and put on the grid in place of other energy already there. The renewable energy is still distributed and transmitted by PG&E.

In addition to building philanthropy and volunteerism into their operations, sustainable practices are important for cannabis enterprises — from using solar panels and LED lighting to buying renewable energy, and deploying biologically sensitive pesticides. The practices help them put on a good face to the community, and but can be strategically important as well.

Others in the same game include San Francisco dispensary SPARC, which purchases renewable energy from PG&E and plans to switch its greenhouses to lower-power LED lighting, according to Erich Pearson, the chief executive of SPARC.

Switching lighting is not an easy proposition, said Aaron Flynn, co-founder of GoldSealSF, another cannabis company with San Francisco greenhouses. It has plans to switch to the CleanPowerSF renewable energy program. Although GoldSealSF currently uses the industry standard lighting — high pressure sodium lighting — it’s researching and testing cultivation with LED lights.

LED lights can be four to seven times more expensive upfront, Flynn said. And crops can suffer as farmers adapt to using the new, lower-power, low-heat light source.

Growers are looking at LED lighting, because PG&E will finance up to $100,000 of LEDs, interest-free, for five years. LED lights can use up 30 percent less energy than sodium lights. They also generate less heat, which means less air-conditioning costs.

On the downside, plants grow differently under LEDs, which are not as warm. LED crops can produce lower yields and require a different feeding system.

“It’s not until the third or fourth week of the flower (phase) that you see the issue — there’s no bud swell,” Flynn said. “That’s when the plants take the infrared light and take heat. That’s when they swell and get big and hard and chunky. It’s hard to accomplish that with LEDs.”

Different lights also affect the terpenes (floral aromas) and cannabinoids in the plants, and affect the potency and smell as well, Flynn said.

“With LEDs, it’s like starting fresh,” Flynn said. “There’s still a big learning curve and the quality hasn’t come to represent what you can get from high pressure sodium lights.

Dispensaries, too, are working to be environmentally friendly.

At the Magnolia dispensary near the port of Oakland, the retail building is on solar power, according to Magnolia director Debby Goldsberry. The dispensary packages its cannabis in glass jars, rather than plastic, and has a cannabis compost program for cannabis waste, along with a goal of ensuring its waste stream is 100 percent green trash.

At Sense, in SoMA, green operations extend beyond energy consumption, to the use of pesticide-free starter plants, as well non-synthetic pesticides, and beneficial insects that eat pests.

“A lot of our products are sold in the Bay Area,” said King, the cultivator, “and the Bay Area has been a leader in the sustainability space. It’s just natural for us to do that within our industry here at Sense.”


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