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."
The Statesman Journal reported that problems linger from the industry's black-market past, not the least of which is substandard electrical work powering lights at marijuana grow-operations.
Outside a home or business, the issue is possibly overloading the local power grid. Pacific Power in Portland 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."
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."
Steve Corson, a spokesman for Portland General Electric, told the Statesman Journal that PGE has had similar problems. PGE crews anecdotally report that about 10 percent of their transformer blowouts are from grow-ops. Corson said about 400 PGE transformers blow out each year.