New laws might be on the way in Missoula to regulate energy consumption by cannabis companies.
On Wednesday, the Missoula City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee met to hear a report from the city’s planning office, which had been asked to investigate energy consumption by the cannabis industry and provide that information to council.
“We were able to land on as part of our research that cannabis cultivation is a highly energy-intensive use compared to other uses,” Madson Matthias, an assistant planner, told the committee.
“Other jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis cultivation within their communities have seen an overall increase in energy demand,” he added.
City staff presented a “white paper” or fact-finding report to council. Late last year, council voted to direct staff to “address and mitigate the impacts of high energy consumption at cultivation operations.”
Staff recommended several paths forward for council, while also asking for additional guidance on other topics. The general recommendation is that businesses would have three options to mesh with with city’s climate goals.
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The first involves meeting a minimum standard for energy efficiency of lighting used for indoor grow operations. The second would require businesses to source lights from a Horticultural Lighting Qualified Product List created by DesignLights Consortium, a nonprofit with high-efficiency lighting goals. A third option would require producing renewable energy onsite.
City staff asked for guidance on what level of regulation should be implemented on operation size, as well as energy efficiency thresholds.
“Small, local operations may have less upfront capital to meet the regulations, potentially putting some businesses at risk,” the city document reads. “However, in order to stay competitive in the long term, reducing lighting costs through use of LEDs is recommended. Staff would like City Council to weigh the importance of industry equity and climate action when deciding if small operations should be exempt.”
Council discussed how to define small businesses and whether or not established companies should have to comply with new regulations, should they be implemented.
“My thoughts on this, from a business point of view, is it cost efficient to have lower energy usage,” councilor Sandra Vasecka said. “I don’t think that the government should put limitations on that or regulations on it.”
Councilor Mirtha Becerra brought up a separate, though related, concern — only nine of the 50 businesses the city staff reached out to for feedback on the proposed regulations responded.
Staff did say they had been sending out email blasts and had hosted stakeholder meetings, though those meetings were not well-attended.
“(I’m) just wondering what else you think could be done to ensure that as you move forward with this work that later you’re not hearing from all those who haven’t participated early on in the process and ensuring that we are being as inclusive as possible of that perspective,” Becerra said.
JJ Thomas, a local cannabis business owner, said he had heard about a few meetings, but had not seen a draft of the energy proposal or had any idea of what it included until contacted on Friday by the Missoulian.
The city report does note some feedback by businesses, including financial pressure of being forced to switch to more energy-efficient equipment and the hope for some sort of flexibility.
The sense among owners is that they are already too busy with changes to their business due to recreational legalization to really get involved in the process, Thomas said, adding they will just accept what they have to do.
It remains to be seen whether the city’s desire to pursue its energy consumption goals violates state law.
There could be legal hurdles to any new ordinance or cannabis regulations, which would come through a Title 5 Business Licenses and Regulations code change. Staff were notified by the city’s building department that changes to the code could conflict with state law.
Montana Code Annotated states, “A building code enforcement program may, as part of its building code or by town ordinance or resolution, adopt voluntary energy conservation standards for new construction for the purpose of providing incentives to encourage voluntary energy conservation.”
The important word to note there is voluntary — state law does not explicitly allow for energy regulations to be required. It’s unclear if the city would be able to do much more than use the ordinance as an incentive-based program.
In Montana, the state owns the building code. This means any changes to that code would have to be approved by the state. And unless Missoula was granted a special exception in this case, those changes would apply to the entire state. Any change to MCA, which is state law, has to come through the Legislature.
Once a specific policy is drafted, it can be sent to the state for review.
“We are waiting until the draft ordinance portion of the process because specific language results in more specific review and feedback,” Cassie Tripard, a land use supervisor with the city, wrote the Missoulian in an email. “In the next couple weeks staff will meet with members of the state to determine if our ordinance will be in compliance with state law.”
However, local governments have taken a hard stance on climate action in Missoula. The city and county have a joint agreement to source 100% renewable energy for the urban Missoula area by 2030.
Additionally, Missoula County has strict environmental requirements regarding cryptocurrency — likely the first such laws in the country — and seem poised to take similar action on cannabis regulations. Both emerging industries use tremendous amounts of electricity.
Nationally, 80% of cannabis is cultivated indoors. Montana does not allow outdoor cannabis grows — which can consume up to 2,000 watts of electricity per square meter, according to a 2012 study published in Energy Policy.
Approximately 1% of the entire United States energy consumption is used by the cannabis industry. Some states, such as Illinois, have strict cannabis energy policies aimed at reducing consumption in the industry. The Illinois regulations, along with some municipalities in Colorado as well as statewide laws in Vermont and Massachusetts, were noted by city planning staff in their support.
Draft county cannabis zoning regulations are very similar to what the city is planning. Facilities would need to meet one of three conditions — lighting power density would not be allowed to exceed 36 watts per square foot, all lighting equipment appears on the DesignLights list, or 100% of the energy used has to be sourced from renewable energy.
Local government officials have repeatedly spoke about clean energy goals, including at the unveiling of Montana’s largest rooftop solar array at the Missoula County Detention Facility. Missoula also recently elected climate activist Daniel Carlino to city council.
Fellow first-term councilor Mike Nugent also pushed for strong regulations, with the idea they can be adjusted if needed.
“If we are too strong on energy efficiency and we have to correct that a little bit, I think that’s a better correction than the other way around,” Nugent said. “I would lean towards, if we’re going to do it, let’s do what we think is right and if we have to correct, we can do so.”
Jordan Hansen covers news and local government for the Missoulian. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or send him an email at Jordan.Hansen@Missoulian.com