Solar pot: Alberta cannabis producer unveils rooftop solar system

Freedom Cannabis flipped the switch Tuesday on the rooftop solar system at its plant 20 kilometres west of Edmonton, saying it will save the company money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

'It is our responsibility to recognize our industry's impact on the environment'

The rooftop solar system at the Freedom Cannabis facility west of Edmonton was officially activated on Tuesday. (Genevieve Tardif/CBC)

Freedom Cannabis flipped the switch Tuesday on a rooftop solar system at its facility 20 kilometres west of Edmonton, claiming it is the largest such solar operation in Canada. 

The cannabis grower describes the system as state-of-the-art, adding it will save the company money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"It is our responsibility to recognize our industry's impact on the environment and work to do everything we can to minimize it," said Troy Dezwart, the company's co-founder and executive director.

Cannabis is one of the most energy intensive industries in the world, Dezwart said. 

The growing process requires immense amounts of energy for lights, heating, pumps and ventilation fans. While no national statistics exist in Canada, information gathered by cannabis research firm New Frontier Group states cannabis growers in the United States used enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes in 2017.

Freedom's solar array consists of 4,574 solar modules that will produce a maximum of 1,830 kW for the company's 126,000-square-foot facility, which is located in Acheson, Alta.

When fully functional, the solar array will offset about 1,041 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually and supply about 8 per cent of the building's annual power consumption.

Freedom Cannabis could save up to $300,000 a year in operating costs with the new rooftop solar system, Troy Dezwart, executive director and company co-founder, told CBC. (Andreane Williams/CBC)

In addition to the environmental impact, the new system will also affect the company's operating costs, Dezwart said.

"Today at the current rate of 8 cents a kilowatt hour, we're saving in the range of 8 to 10 per cent of our power requirement, which could add up to $300,000 a year," he said.

More growers need to convert

"I believe that more companies in the cannabis base have to convert to renewable resources just to compete with the illegal market," said Maurizio Terrigno, founder of the Canadian Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

About 70 per cent of all cannabis produced illegally in Canada is grown outdoors while legal operations must grow their product indoors, he said.

For legal growers to compete, they need to lower their production costs — and energy savings are a big part of that, Terrigno said.

"This old-school mentality of production is what's costing this industry so much," he said. "We need efficiencies in this industry."

The cost of Freedom's $2.5-million solar system was partly offset by a $1-million grant from Energy Efficiency Alberta, which promoted energy efficiency through programs funded by the defunct provincial carbon tax.

Freedom has also implemented a program that aims to recycle up to 80 per cent of the water used in the growing process, Dezwart said.

It is also working on a study to look at the feasibility of generating power using natural gas and biofuels, he added.

"We expect that to have a major impact on our operating costs," Dezwart said.

Freedom will bring its first crop to market in December.