By Hunter Cresswell, Eureka Times-Standard
Every year law enforcement seizes around 100,000 marijuana plants on average in Humboldt County and that plant matter could be turned into energy if it were feasible and efficient, but right now it’s not.
Redwood Community Energy, the local community choice aggregation program ran by Redwood Coast Energy Authority, is set to roll out in May of next year using more local renewable energy including mainly biomass energy before developing more local solar and wind farms.
RCEA Executive Director Matthew Marshall earlier this week told the Rio Dell City Council about plans to procure a third of the county’s electricity from biomass plants, another third from hydroelectric plants and the last third from other sources. He added that at the beginning of the program, 10 percent to 20 percent of the biomass energy will be from local plants.
Bob Marino, the general manager of the DG Fairhaven Power biomass plant in Samoa, said his and other plants generate power by burning organic material — nothing pressure treated or painted — and converting that heat into energy. The plants burn non-marketable logs, saw mill residuals and plant matter directly from forests.
“Essentially you can burn anything organic, but that doesn’t mean I would,” he said.
Marino said the ashes left over after burning the biomass at his plant are organic and that he gives them to local dairies and farms.
“My ash products are certified organic,” he said.
Marijuana can be grown organically, but there aren’t stringent regulations or oversight on black market products to ensure they actually are organic. Agents raiding grow operations often find all sorts of chemicals, both household and banned. Though it’s possible to burn cannabis in biomass plants for energy, without knowing that it’s actually organic, Marino said he wouldn’t.
“I would not jeopardize my ash program by doing that,” he said.
Representatives from the biomass plants in Scotia and Blue Lake couldn’t be reached for comment by the publishing deadline.
Humboldt County Drug Task Force Lt. Bryan Quenell said he and his team by law must make sure the plants are destroyed.
“Either we shred or chip it on scene with a wood chipper or bury it at various locations around the county,” he said.
Quenell said it would be tough to organize with biomass facilities because his team may not get back from a raid until a biomass plant closes.
“I don’t think that’s a feasible way of doing it,” Quenell said.
If that happens, his team would be stuck with chipping or burying the plants after a long day of raids.
“We sign a court order under penalty of perjury that the plants were destroyed in our presence,” Quenell added.
RCEA senior energy specialist Richard Engel said the energy authority doesn’t have any stance on marijuana and that when he was reached on Thursday, that was the first time he heard of turning seized cannabis into energy. He said he had two concerns; moisture content and quantity.
“You want stuff that’s very low moisture content,” he said about what goes into biomass incinerators. “Their ideal is called bone dry.”
Marijuana plants ripped from the soil earlier that day don’t qualify as bone dry. Engel said the amount of marijuana seized in a year, though big in terms of consuming marijuana, is insignificant compared to how much other plant matter is burned.
“It’s such a tiny drop in the bucket compared to what we’re talking about,” he said.
But all that could change in the post-marijuana prohibition era if recreational pot is legalized in California in November.
“Who knows,” Engel said.
Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506
This story was first published on Times-Standard.com