State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require medical marijuana dispensaries to grow 70 percent of the cannabis that they sell. At the same time, Boulder leaders are considering rules that would require any dispensary that grows any cannabis to offset all of its electricity use with renewable sources. Combined, the rules would mean dispensaries have to:
Offset 100 percent of their electricity use by subscribing to Windsource, a product of Xcel Energy; subscribing to a community solar garden; using on-site solar panels; or using some other form of renewable energy that the city approves.
Provide utility bills to the city, upon request, to prove how much electricity they use and where it's coming from.
How to subscribe
To subscribe to Windsource power, call 800-895-4999, or visit xcelenergy.com.
If you go
What: The Boulder City Council's final reading of medical marijuana rules
When: 6 p.m. May 18
Where: Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway
A state bill that would set broad regulations for the burgeoning medical marijuana industry would likely have the unintended side effect of forcing all dispensaries in Boulder to use 100 percent wind or solar energy.
House Bill 1284, which appears to be on its way to the governor's desk this week, would contain a provision requiring all dispensaries to grow at least 70 percent of the marijuana they sell.
At the same time, regulations being considered in Boulder -- which will likely be approved May 18 -- would require dispensaries that grow any amount of their own product to offset 100 percent of the electricity they use by subscribing to wind power, connecting to a community solar garden or using on-site solar panels.
The combination of the state and local laws, if left unchanged, would likely mean each of the 100 licensed dispensaries in Boulder would have to go to all-clean energy.
That has some dispensary owners, and some city officials, split on the idea.
'A dangerous precedent'
Several members of the City Council have said the medical marijuana industry should offset the greenhouse-gas emissions generated by the high-wattage growing lamps, fans, ventilators and other equipment required to cultivate the plant indoors.
But Councilman George Karakehian said imposing strict rules for one category of businesses is "setting a dangerous precedent."
Karakehian, a businessman who owns Art Source International on the Pearl Street Mall, warned his colleagues that forcing any one type of business to use renewable energy isn't fair.
"I don't feel like it's good government to impose rules on one group for just an arbitrary reason," Karakehian said. "There are other big users of electricity. Why aren't we doing anything about them?"
Karakehian suggested that the council singled out marijuana businesses on the electricity issue "because we could," but he doesn't think he has the votes to change it.
Suzy Ageton and Matt Appelbaum were also among the minority of council members who oppose the move.
"I'm uncomfortable with the fact that it's in the ordinance," Ageton said.
"You do not single out one particular type of business," he said.
Appelbaum said he would likely support a commercial energy conservation ordinance that would apply to all businesses over time, but starting out dispensaries at 100 percent renewable energy is "a little too much, a little fast."
He said he's hopeful he can convince his colleagues to reconsider.
"Maybe we'll get some more traction on it," he said. "I don't think the debate is necessarily done on this issue."
Despite their opposition, Karakehian, Ageton and Appelbaum voted to approve the new regulations on second reading last week.
Ryan Hartman, a co-owner of the Boulder Wellness Center, 5420 Arapahoe Ave., said the proposed state and local laws already carry hefty licensing fees that could top tens of thousands of dollars. He's concerned that the added costs of having to subscribe to Xcel Energy's Windsource program, or purchasing solar equipment, would further hurt small dispensaries like his.
"Everyone has this idea that you open up a dispensary and within a month you're rich," he said. "I don't have a car because everything I make goes back into the business."
He said he wouldn't mind setting a goal for his company to use 100 percent renewable energy within a few years, but he doesn't think the city should mandate it.
Cost vs. benefit
According to officials at Xcel, the average small business in Colorado uses 1,123 kilowatt hours of electricity a month and has a monthly bill of about $122.
According to The Climate Trust, a national group that provides carbon offsets for governments and corporations, an average 3,000-square-foot business emits 34 to 46 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year.
Windsource -- which, despite its name, doesn't actually change where a company's electricity comes from but rather provides funding for expanding renewable energy sources -- is available at a rate of $2.16 per 100 kilowatt hours, in addition to the regular price of electricity.
Buying enough Windsource to offset 100 percent of an average small businesses' electricity would add $26 a month to their utility bills, an increase of about 21 percent.
It's not clear how much more electricity an average marijuana growing operation requires.
Ernie Travis, a co-owner of Boulder Vital Herbs, 2527 Broadway, said his electric bill is about triple the average small business -- at $600 to $700 a month.
His operation grows about 200 plants at a time, using seven 1,000-watt bulbs and six 400-watt bulbs.
He said he's all for a renewable-energy mandate.
"I would do that in a heartbeat," he said. "I actually think about the amount of coal it takes to run my garden."
His only reservation, he said, is the added cost.
"Green usually means expensive," he said.
Under the city's proposal, auditors would have the right to inspect dispensary utility bills to ensure compliance with the law. It would also give the city a good idea of how much energy the businesses are consuming.
Under Boulder's proposal, dispensaries would also be allowed to subscribe to a community solar garden.
State lawmakers earlier this month approved a bill allowing the gardens, which in concept will allow people and businesses to receive a credit on their utility bill for owning a share of solar power generated at an off-site location.
But it's not yet known what level of investment in a solar garden a business would have to make to cover all of its electricity use.
Protecting the planet
Councilman Macon Cowles, one of the strongest advocates for requiring marijuana to pay for its own electricity with renewable sources, said he's convinced that dispensaries use a disproportionate amount of energy that contributes to greenhouse-gas emissions.
"It seems to me that it's important that (the medical marijuana industry) not harm the planet in the long run and not make it harder for Boulder" to reach its climate action goals, he said.
Cowles said the electricity for his five-bedroom, 4,800-square-foot home in north Boulder has been 100 percent offset by Windsource power for years. He said the added cost of wind power is mild compared with what the state wants to charge for a dispensary license, and the city's requirement probably won't close dispensaries.
"I don't think it's going to push them out of business," he said.
Cowles successfully lobbied the council Tuesday to remove a provision from the proposal that would have allowed dispensaries and growing operations to buy their way out of the requirement by purchasing certified Renewable Energy Credits or carbon offsets.
The council has one last chance to amend the ordinance, during the final reading of the proposal on May 18.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.