How the Energy Trust of Oregon Helps Cannabis Cultivators Improve Energy Efficiency

How the Energy Trust of Oregon Helps Cannabis Cultivators Improve Energy Efficiency

The nonprofit works with growers in Oregon and southwest Washington to help them save energy and generate renewable power.

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August 20, 2018

The Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO) has been helping cannabis cultivators become more energy efficient and improve sustainability since 2013, according to Susan Jowaiszas, the senior marketing manager for the organization’s commercial sector.

The independent nonprofit organization helps utility customers in Oregon and southwest Washington save energy and generate renewable power. The ETO offers information, cash incentives and technical assistance to all types of customers—residential, industrial and commercial—to encourage them to choose the most efficient products, equipment and approaches in their homes and businesses, and to invest in small-scale solar and renewable energy, Jowaiszas says. This includes financial incentives for upgrades to heating systems or lighting, as well as incentives for solar equipment in commercial businesses.

“We do this because the most affordable type of energy—and the best for our environment—is the energy we help customers save or produce from Oregon’s own renewable resources,” Jowaiszas says.

The ETO is overseen by the Oregon Public Utility Commission. About 1.6 million Oregon customers who use PGE, Pacific Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural gas and Avista are eligible for the ETO’s services, in addition to 80,000 NW Natural customers in southwest Washington, Jowaiszas adds.

“For every $1 we invest in energy efficiency, customers will save nearly $3,” she says. “Overall, customers have saved approximately $3.2 billion on their utility bills.”

The ETO has saved 669 average megawatts (aMW) and generated 127 aMW, Jowaiszas adds, delivering a total of 796 aMW of electricity since 2002.

The ETO can work with eligible cannabis producers to identify and implement custom improvements to their facilities that can reduce energy costs, Jowaiszas says. The organization has been offering cash incentives and technical services to medical cannabis growers since May 2013, and it now offers these same services to licensed indoor and outdoor recreational growers.

“Growers, like all businesspeople, are interested in how they can lower their costs, boost their profits and produce a high-quality product, and we’ve had a very positive response to our program’s technical services and incentives from growers across the state,” she says. “We’ve been working collaboratively with growers to learn how energy efficiency can be integrated into their operations and make them aware of how we can help them save energy and money. … We’ve heard anecdotal comments that interest in energy efficiency is growing as the market becomes more competitive and growers look for ways to control costs.”

Cash incentives are based on the estimated annual energy savings for the cultivator, Jowaiszas says, and are currently available at $0.25 per kilowatt hour saved and $2 per therm saved. These incentives can cover up to 50 percent of the upfront project cost, she adds, and can be provided to the equipment vendor or contractor, which reduces the grower’s overall investment. All custom projects must be pre-approved by the ETO to be eligible for incentive payments, however.

State-licensed cannabis cultivators must contact the ETO to establish eligibility. Energy-efficient measures must be installed in a permanent structure, Jowaiszas says, and the ETO must conduct pre- and post-verification for the installation. In addition, if the grower is pursuing a lighting project, they can locate an ETO trade ally contractor to do the work. If the project involves energy-efficient equipment upgrades, the cultivator can contact the ETO program delivery contractor in their area to determine what free technical services and cash incentives are available.

“The easiest path is to contact the Energy Trust program delivery contractor in your area and talk with them about your ideas and plans,” Jowaiszas says. “They can provide help on how the steps of the process and how to complete the application.”

Once a grower secures eligibility, the ETO pays 100 percent of the cost of technical studies to identify energy-efficient opportunities for qualified projects, Jowaiszas says, and incentives are also available for a cultivator’s high-efficiency lighting and lighting controls. There are also greenhouse rebates available for the use of energy-efficient equipment and systems, including infrared polyethylene greenhouse covers, greenhouse controllers, condensing unit heaters, under-bench heating equipment and thermal curtains, she adds.

“For context, lighting is the most frequently installed product by cannabis growers,” Jowaiszas says. “Lighting projects at cannabis facilities are roughly 10 percent of all lighting projects participating in our business programs. We’re doing a lot of technical work now to see if we can identify other cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities in commercial grow operations for HVAC, dehumidification and other systems.”

The ETO has attended and exhibited at cannabis industry events and has received many inquiries from cultivators, Jowaiszas says. In 2016, the organization provided incentives for lighting systems to 15 indoor cannabis facilities, which resulted in a total annual savings of nearly 1 million kilowatt hours. Last year, in 2017, the ETO completed more than 70 cannabis projects in Oregon, producing a total of 12 million kilowatt hours in annual energy savings.

“Growers are increasingly interested in learning how to make their businesses more profitable, and we are on track to deliver more savings in 2018 than we did in 2017,” Jowaiszas says.

Eco Firma Farms, HiFi Farms and Yerba Buena have all worked with the ETO and have had case studies published on the organization’s website.

“Energy Trust is committed to working with all eligible customers who are interested in saving energy,” Jowaiszas says. “It helps us reach our goals of delivering clean energy to the ratepayers of our partner utilities.”

Top Image: © Eric Limon | Adobe Stock