Arcata’s anti-large-scale-residential-indoor-grower Excessive Electricity Use Tax is supposedly kicking in next month and PG&E’s CARE program underwent a recent change as well — this portends higher bottom lines for Arcata’s large-scale-residential-indoor-growers. Legalization does too. The Earth shakes, the seas rise and the marijuana industry morphs.

Lots of people grow weed indoors, homes, closets, sheds, apartments and warehouses. Sometimes growers use excessive power and are slobs. Here’s a bust from July. Its interesting to consider because of its scale. It wasn’t in residential Arcata, but it wasn’t far from there either.

From the Sheriff’s Press Release:

“The indoor marijuana grows contained a total of seventy two 1000 watt lights with ballasts and hoods which were dormant when deputies arrived; they were being powered by a 100 KW generator which deputies seized.”

That’s seventy two 1000 watt lights being powered by a 100 KW generator. Mike Dronkers does some grow house math here to determine how many kilowatt hours it takes to run 72 lights for 14 hours a day for 30 days. His answer is large, though he doubts his accuracy. Even if Mike D’s answer is off by an order of magnitude, running seventy two 1000 watt lights for any amount of time requires a not insignificant amount of power. (The lightbulb in your living room lamp is maybe 60 watts.)

There probably aren’t many growers running 72-lighters in residential Arcata, but there probably is a handful (give-or-take) running 5 to 10 to 15 to 20 lighters.

That doesn’t jibe with the majority of voting citizens of Arcata and the city’s “greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.” Last year Arcata voters thew out a lasso to rope in excessive-power users (read large-scale-residential indoor growers) with their Nov. 2012 passage of Measure I. City officials are trying to pull the noose tight — they expect PG&E to start collecting the tax for excessive energy use (over 600% of baseline in a month, where baseline is related to some regional average) next month. Arcata City Council Member Michael Winkler has ants in his pants; he says “we’re disappointed that it’s taking as long as it has.”

Arcata’s High Energy Use Tax is to be levied on the total amount billed to the household. Any Arcata household that exceeds 600% of baseline energy usage in a month is to be billed for a 45% tax on the electricity portion of their monthly power bill. PG&E is supposed to collect and pass the taxes onto the City of Arcata, but PG&E won’t tell the city who is paying the tax. CARE enrollees that exceed 600% of baseline use in a month, get the tax is onto their total amount billed, or 45% of 1/3 of what the real cost is. (Still a significant increase.)

And yeah, what’s up with Arcata’s Excessive Electricity tax and tricky large-scale-residential-indoor-growers that are enrolled in the California Alternate Rates for Energy program, a.k.a. CARE, the “monthly discount on energy bills for income-qualified households”?

CARE is this easy-to-enroll in program that helps low income households out with the cost of their electricity. That includes low income households that use an excessive amount of electricity. CARE enrollees are billed for only 1/3 of their total monthly electricity usage; the rest is paid by for by rate payers that are not enrolled in CARE.

A stereotypically successful grower might make a living in cash and report little income. This grower is low-income on paper. Since PG&E doesn’t thoroughly vet the finances of every single CARE applicant — they take what people tell them about their moneys at face value, this grower can theoretically run a residential 10-lighter and pay 1/3 of the real cost for the electricity he or she uses through the CARE program. (Even if PG&E did thoroughly vet CARE applicants, they still wouldn’t be able to find out if an applicant is cash-rich if the applicant is secretive enough.)

Interestingly, PG&E keeps energy usage data and CARE stuff confidential, but with search warrants, police can obtain energy records from PG&E. Arcata Police Department’s press releases sometimes feature info on a busted residential grow’s excessive energy use with a comparison to typical use.

From an Aug. 8 Arcata PD bust press release:

“The growing operation that was being conducted inside the home consisted of [sixteen]1000 watt grow lights and was utilizing nearly 15 times the electricity of a typical Arcata family home. Records indicated the residents were currently enrolled in the PG&E CARE program for low income families.”

That’s fifteen times the use of a typical Arcata home, and the residents were enrolled in CARE.

But a new crease crept in to the local utility scene fabric a few months ago, a policy via the California Public Utilities Commission that will theoretically thwart excessive energy users on the CARE program. If a household is enrolled in CARE and it goes over 600% of baseline in any month, the household has 90 days to drop usage below 600% or it will be “de-enrolled and barred” from CARE for 24 months (see pg. 400 of this huge doc). Then PG&E might actually do a “Post Enrollment Verification” on the household — they might actually check finances.

It’s all so much for PG&E to manage, the taxes, the fees, the data, the CARE recipients, the excessive users. And with the change to CARE and Arcata’s legendary anti-large-scale-residential indoor grower tax, we may see large-scale-residential-indoor-grows vanish from the Arcata-scape, or we may not.

And what about legalization? Can we expect to see Arcata’s entrepreneurial indoor growers team up and convert some of those old industrial warehouse sites to proper indoor grows, away from residential areas, in properly zoned marijuana processing facilities? Transport water down to SoHum and then send extra pounds of outdoor weed up to Arcata for processing. Make Arcata the dabs capital of California. You know, connect the county, realize all this capitalist potential in the marijuana market.

City Council Member Michael Winkler acknowledges the marijuana potential in the empty industrial space around town, but he doesn’t feel like industrial marijuana friendly action is called for just yet. If marijuana is legalized, this is what Winkler wants to see happen:

“The price of product would drop so that growing in houses and apartments would be unprofitable in itself, and the more efficient growers would grow either outdoors or they would grow in more efficient industrial operations.

Right, but he doesn’t feel it’s necessary for Arcata to plan for legalization until it’s “more imminent,” like when there is actually a qualified ballot measure with a good chance of passing. “I think it isn’t going to happen overnight,” he says, “the process would take a couple of years… It’s isn’t high priority at this time.”

The legalization catch: If weed is legalized, you can’t smoke it in downtown Arcata.