Marijuana growers go ‘green,’ switch to solar power

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Authorities say that illegal marijuana growers have increasingly been going “green” and using solar panels as a power source to stay off of the grid and avoid detection by law enforcement officials, according to The Associated Press.

Solar panels may be expensive, but they allow pot growers to avoid consuming massive amounts of power from nearby power companies which can tip off authorities to their activities.

“We’re definitely seeing more and more of it,” New Mexico State Police Lt. Robert McDonald told the AP. “I think since the cartels down in Mexico are now having such a hard time getting their product up here that some growers are trying to grow it themselves and to (stop) us from finding them by using solar. It definitely makes it harder.”

Recently, the New Mexico state police broke up a marijuana growing operation that used solar powered water pumps. In an isolated area of Rio Arriba County, the police raided the facility and seized about 250 marijuana plants that were between six and eight feet tall.

Similarly in 2010, New Mexico police pulled more than 1,500 plants from a “very elaborate and sophisticated” marijuana operation that used “solar panels, water pumps, batteries, and hundreds of yards of hose that functioned on timers.”

The switch to solar has also resulted in thefts of panels from homes and businesses, particularly in California wine country.

California authorities stepped up pressure against solar panel thefts after a slew of solar panel thefts from Napa Valley wineries and vineyards occurred two years ago. Authorities believe the panel thefts were linked to a criminal ring that sold to illegal pot growers.

“Around 10 to 11 wineries were hit,” said Michael Honig, president of Honig Vineyard and Winery in Rutherford, California. “So was a school.” Honig told the AP that after installing 819 solar panels, thieves stole around forty of them.

“Here we had folks trying to do the right thing and go green and they were getting hit,” said Deputy Sheriff Jon Thompson. “It hurt, especially when it’s $17,000 a panel.”

Last year, the New York Times reported that $5 billion worth of electricity was spent on indoor pot-growing in the United States annually — about 1 percent of national power consumption.

The Times also reported that pot was the country’s largest cash crop, with about $40 billion in annual production value.

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