By Courtney Sherwood
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - An Oregon electric utility said on Thursday that residents growing light-craving marijuana plants indoors have sparked a wave of small-scale outages, prompting the company to offer expert help in setting up their home-growing operations.
Pacific Power said it has grappled with increased outages since July 1, when Oregon law changed to allow adults over 21 to grow up to four marijuana plants apiece for recreational use.
Voters in Oregon and Alaska last year approved marijuana use and possession under state-regulated frameworks that will usher in retail pot shops in 2016 similar to those already operating in Washington state and Colorado.
Pacific Power, which operates in Oregon, Washington state, and California, is asking new indoor marijuana growers to consult an electrician before getting started, he said. In some cases, growers may need to work with the utility to request a capacity upgrade to the local grid.
"If you've got two or three people, they could be growing 12 plants in a house. This could require as much power as a small manufacturing operation," Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said.
"Most outages are still caused by trees, squirrels, cars hitting poles but we've had seven instances where we billed people for causing damage to the system because of grow operations since July 1," Gauntt said.
The average bill to those growers for the damage is $5,000, Gauntt said.
While Pacific Power in the past has reported marijuana grow operations to police, officials said that since the July 1 law change, they are now focused on working with growers.
"No one should be shy about seeking advice on how to do your in-house grow safely and efficiently," said Roger Blank, Pacific Power's director of safety. "And that includes letting us know when your power needs are about to expand greatly."
(Reporting by Courtney Sherwood in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Eric M. Johnson)