Microgrids for Energy-Hungry Cannabis Growers in California City

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SALT Energy, a Maryland based developer of renewable energy and microgrid projects, has teamed up with Baker Energy Team of Roseville, Calif., to explore the development of microgrids to serve new businesses in California City, especially cannabis growing operations.

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Indoor cannabis operation by Canna Obscura/Shutterstock

A microgrid project could be in operation as soon as next summer, according to Robert Babcock, president and owner of SALT Energy. Although they are still preliminary, Babcock said he has had discussions with businesses that are either already in California City or are looking to locate there, particularly cannabis grow operations.

California City has a sunny, arid climate well suited for growing cannabis, and the city has a lot of open space.

The city was designed as a model to rival Los Angeles in size. Streets and services were laid out, and the city was incorporated in 1965. But although the lots were sold, the city never reached its planned size. Today there are about 14,000 residents of California City.

At this point, however, an influx of businesses with high electrical demand could strain California City’s grid, which is run by Southern California Edison. A cannabis grow operation can require service of up to 6,000 amps.

Linked microgrids for California City?

Since recreational marijuana became legal in California on January 1, utilities throughout the state have been swamped with service requests from cannabis growers looking to connect or upgrade their electrical service. That has resulted in service fulfillment waits of up to a year or more.

“California City is at the end of the line and the time lines are even longer,” Babcock said. “Cannabis growers want their service requests done yesterday.”

Babcock says his company can install a combined heat and power (CHP) plant in about two weeks. The most likely scenario for a microgrid project in California City would be some sort of CHP plant combined with solar panels and battery storage to store excess solar generation for use in the evening. If the footprint of a business is large enough — 20 or 30 acres– Babcock says it could be possible for all the generation to come from a combination of solar panels and batteries.

Babcock has also had discussions with the city’s officials about a scenario in which the city would eventually buy out the microgrids. The city is exploring the idea of cutting its ties with Southern California Edison and forming a municipal utility, he said.

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In late October, Babcock made a presentation to California City officials that demonstrated how SALT Energy could build a series of microgrids in the area over three to five years as the city pulls together the financing it would need to form a municipal utility.

After the city cuts its ties with the utility, the microgrids could be linked together and eventually sold to the city.

“This was just an initial discussion,” Babcock said. “The city wanted to hear what their options would be. There is a lot of work to turn into a muni.”

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Meanwhile, the underlying theory of microgrids at industrial sites is moving ahead, Babcock said. SALT Energy is working with Baker Energy on those projects.

Company founder is former major league baseball player

“We share the effort,” Babcock said. “Baker brings projects to me if it is beyond pure rooftop solar. I’m bringing the long-term capital. They are on the ground; that helps me a lot.”

Baker Energy was founded and is owned by Johnnie “Dusty” Baker, Jr., a former major league baseball player with the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers and a manager of several baseball teams, most recently the Washington Nationals.

SALT Energy and Baker Energy are also working on other projects in the state outside of California City. Those projects are moving forward with final designs and permit applications, Babcock said.

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