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Editorial: Getting their green on

When the Lynn City Council unanimously approved Lynn’s  first marijuana cultivation license earlier this spring, the city joined a growing number of municipalities across Massachusetts that have begun to welcome — with conditions — this new business sector within their borders.  Massachusetts, meanwhile, has joined a growing number of states across the country that have made cannabis cultivation legal, slowly peeling away decades of illicit growing and stigma.

As growers from Lynn to Los Angeles look to grasp the newfound opportunity, however, it’s important to acknowledge that not all aspects of marijuana cultivation are “green.” Cultivation centers such as the one planned in Lynn are extremely dependent on effective artificial lighting — and a lot of it.

According to an article posted by the American Power Association, for example, indoor cannabis growing has an electricity demand profile similar to that of a data center or hospital.  And a 2018 report by New Frontier Data found that US legal cannabis cultivation requires enough electricity annually to power 92,500 homes and accounts for carbon emissions equivalent to what’s produced by 92,600 cars. The report also projected a 162 percent increase in electricity consumption for cannabis cultivation between 2017 and 2022.

Add to this the impact of indoor farms that produce greens and other produce, and so-called “horticultural lighting” represents one of fastest growing electric load categories for many utilities. A December 2017 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report notes that the annual electricity consumption of US horticultural lighting installations is approximately equal to the yearly usage of approximately 550,000 US households, and consumption is projected to increase between 15 and 25 percent per year as more indoor agricultural operations come online.

Switching to all LED technology, however, could reduce the sector’s annual electricity consumption by 40 percent, a savings of approximately $240 million, the DOE report stated.

The DesignLights Consortium (DLC) recently introduced a solution designed to start capturing those savings. Located in Medford, the DLC is a non-profit with international reach.  It serves as a central resource for the lighting industry, utilities and others seeking to speed the transition to light emitting diode (LED) technology and to make this technology increasingly efficient.

Scores of utility companies across North America (including National Grid, which serves Lynn) rely on the DLC to help inform the design of energy efficient lighting incentive and rebate programs.  Think MassSave, only for commercial and industrial customers.

Late last year, the DLC developed new specifications for LED horticultural lighting. Manufacturers must meet the standard to get their lighting products onto the DLC Qualified Products List that serves as a guidepost for incentives offered by many US electric utilities. The standard applies to lighting for indoor horticulture of all types, not just cannabis growing, and several products have already earned a place on our list.  

Due to their superior efficiency and longevity, only LED products qualify under the new standard. The DLC has committed to revising the specification to more rigorous standards every two years as the state of the art continues to advance.

As the impacts of climate change continue to mount, no new industry — regardless of its economic promise — can afford to operate counter to nation-leading policies that have made the Commonwealth number one in the country for energy efficiency. We’re hopeful local growers will see the light, be motivated to learn more, and look for products bearing the DLC’s new horticultural logo.

Christina Halfpenny is Executive Director of the DesignLights Consortium, headquartered in Medford.

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