Cannabis cultivation company Canndescent likes to be ground-breaking. Not only did it launch the first municipally permitted cannabis production facility in California in 2016, it is now the first major legal marijuana brand to install a significant on-site solar project.
Escondido-based Palomar Solar, the lucky solar company to receive the contract, is now at the forefront of a burgeoning market for much-needed solar generation help. Through a series of friendships and great networking, Palomar Solar was called in to quickly complete the unique 282.6-kW carport system in Desert Hot Springs, California. The solar installation company finished the project only seven months after first meeting with Canndescent — including all the complicated permitting.
“They had a very aggressive time frame,” said Adam Rizzo, Palomar partner. “But I have a lot of confidence when I quote a job, because my partner Andy Anderson knows how to navigate stuff that is a roadblock for everyone else.”
Canndescent chose the two-building property (with 11,000 sq. ft in warehouses) as its indoor growing site in 2016 mainly for its ideal electricity infrastructure. Half the battle with starting a cannabis growing business is getting adequate electricity, especially since indoor grow operations need 24 hours of lighting, HVAC and ventilation during the seed growth stage.
The bones of the buildings were there and Canndescent spent $3.75 million to retrofit the site for its needs, but when it came to the roofing, the building could not support the extra weight of solar panels. The company was still committed to maxing out solar production somehow, so Palomar Solar had the difficult task of getting seven solar carport structures (totaling 15,855 sq. ft) permitted.
Working in almost entirely sandy soil, Palomar Solar had to dig 14-ft-deep holes for the carport posts that spanned across parking lanes and courtyards. And with the carport structures built to the property lines and within 15 in. of the buildings’ walls, room had to be left underneath for potential fire truck visits. The carports are therefore abnormally tall, which necessitated increased wind-speed engineering up to 130 mph.
Tom DiGiovanni, Canndescent CFO and former exec with REC Solar, said in a company video that securing financing was the most time-consuming part of the project. Since legal marijuana is not federally recognized, it’s difficult for cannabis businesses to get banks to finance solar projects and take advantage of the federal solar investment tax credit. Ultimately, Canndescent and the building owners received a solar loan for the land rather than the cannabis company itself.
“It’s been extremely frustrating, because we want to do the right thing by the environment. We care about the environment that we all live in and, like any other industry, we care about our carbon footprint and we want to do things to reduce it,” DiGiovanni said in the video.
Palomar Solar used 385-W Hanwha Q CELLS panels and SMA inverters with the custom carports. The carports were sectioned to feed into certain SMA inverters to help with locational cloud cover or other solar exposure disruptions. The 282.6-kW system is estimated to meet 20% of Canndescent’s electricity needs. Any offset helps indoor cannabis growing sites with 24/7 HVAC, dehumidification and lighting needs.
With recreational marijuana prohibition just recently lifted in almost a dozen states and districts, it’s not surprising that it took until 2019 for the first major on-site solar project to be interconnected. Canndescent really wanted to be the first to take a big step.
“A lot of people aren’t willing to push the boundaries like Canndescent,” Rizzo said. “But they’re a trend-setter. Instead of reinventing the wheel, people look to them.”
This could be the beginning of a solar+cannabis movement. As John Morris, VP of market development for D+R International, said in a 2017 Solar Power World feature on solar and the cannabis industry, only one large warehouse growing facility needs to go solar to start the transformation.
“You just need to find one or two that are going to be that demonstration project model for you,” Morris said. “You want that thought leadership entity that can really drive it, and then showcase that to all the other growers.”
Canndescent made the first move; what company is next?
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