The enrollment of some indoor marijuana growers in low income energy assistance programs is being targeted by a state bill and county supervisors are supporting it.
Senate Bill 1207 is being considered by state lawmakers and it puts a cap on electricity and gas usage under the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program, which allows power price discounts for income-eligible customers.
The bill would allow the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and other companies to require proof of income if power usage exceeds 400 percent of baseline consumption. If use exceeds 600 percent of the baseline for over 120 days, participants in the program can be cut from it.
When County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes briefed the Board of Supervisors on the bill at its April 17 meeting, he recalled last fall’s presentation by Peter Lehman of the Schatz Energy Lab. Lehman had talked about “the spike in energy usage in Humboldt County that appears to be related to indoor growing of marijuana,” Smith-Hanes said.
Lehman had also told supervisors that PG&E inadvertently enables the power glut by enrolling growers in the CARE program. He had suggested that PG&E establish a cap on the amount of power customers in the program can use.
Based on what they’d heard, supervisors supported previous state legislation on capping CARE energy use — but it used a different technique, based on a kilowatt per hour standard.
Allison Talbot, PG&E’s government relations staffer, said that although the 400 percent of baseline standard “seems a little large,” her company is backing the bill.
“The problem we face, as you know, is that under the current enrollment and verification system, fraud is easy to accomplish and current laws and regulations tie our hands from those found to be abusing the intent of the program,” she told supervisors.
PG&E wants to continue access to the program for customers who are eligible, Talbot added, but also wants to “address the loopholes that that easy access creates.”
The variety of reasons for higher power use was explored by Supervisor Clif Clendenen, who asked Talbot how the 400 percent standard was determined. Talbot said a PG&E specialist has offered to give a presentation on it. Supervisors said they’d like to hear it.
Clendenen said age and health status can affect power usage. “I know, after my dad had had a stroke, how hot he had to have the house, even with blankets on his lap,” he told Talbot. “There’s a lot of energy used to take care of somebody in a medical situation.”
Recalling Lehman’s presentation, Supervisor Mark Lovelace said that “while 400 percent may seem high compared to the baseline, the amount by which some of these grow houses are exceeding that is phenomenal — we’re talking not just four times, but 30, 50, 100 times.”
Still, Lovelace said he’s “curious to hear a little bit more explanation on that number.”
Supervisors unanimously agreed to write a letter of support for SB 1207.