News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Are Pot Growers Suddenly Craving Solar Panels?

Reef-top solar? Pot growers turning to solar power | Photo: Flores y plantas/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Want another reason to decriminalize marijuana? It might make it easier for Northern California vineyards to hang on to their solar panels. At least that's what a recent Associated Press story suggests. According to the AP's Russell Contreras, a rash of solar panel thefts in Napa County may well have been spurred by pot growers' desires to keep their operations off the power grid -- without creating a paper trail leading to their growhouses.

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Contreras cites the experience of Rutherford vintner Michael Honig, who says thieves made off with about 40 of his solar panels after his company installed more than 800 two years ago. Honig told the AP that about a dozen other locations suffered solar panel thefts as well, including a Napa Valley school. Suspects were eventually apprehended, but the hardware was never recovered.

"It hurt, especially when it's $17,000 a panel," Napa County Deputy Sheriff Jon Thompson told the AP. Thompson admitted that no growers had actually been implcated in the thefts.

Even in places where growing operations don't rely on artificial lighting, growers are apparently relying on PV to run water pumps and irrigation timers, among other things. Contreras noted a few operations in the southwest where police raids over the last few years found solar-operated pot growing setups.

Still, there's something about this story that smells a little skunky to ReWire. Sure, it makes sense that growers would want to cut down on their utility bills as much as the next person, if only to avoid calling attention to themselves. But of all the California industries that would know how to buy a solar panel here and another there without either attracting attention or resorting to grand larceny, North Coast growers seem the obvious front runner. After all, we're talking about people who were using solar legitimately on their homes for decades before the rest of the state got interested.

And if law enforcement is running around saying solar panels cost $17K -- which seems to ReWire to be a bit of an overestimate, unless we're talking dual-axis tracking setups -- members of an entirely different drug community would seem more likely suspects. Meth users go to great lengths to strip copper wiring out of homes for a few dollars in proceeds. Shiny new PV panels would seem to offer a significant temptation to people in straits as dire as those.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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