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18,000 grow ops suspected:BC Hydro

By Hempology | September 1, 2006

Aug 31/06

vs_growop_310806_210.jpg Nearly 18,000 homes in B.C. — about the same number of residences as in all of West Vancouver — use suspiciously high amounts of electricity, often a telltale sign of a marijuana growing operation.

Under provincial legislation introduced last spring, municipalities can request a list from BC Hydro of all addresses with abnormally high power consumption — making it easier for police and city inspectors to target growing operations.

Abnormal consumption is defined as any residence that uses more than 93 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per day (the average home uses 31 kWh a day).

In July, The Vancouver Sun filed a freedom of information request with BC Hydro asking how many of its residential customers fit that definition.

The reply: 17,900. In comparison, there are 17,299 homes in West Vancouver.

Hydro said it was unable to provide a city-by-city breakdown of where the high-consumption homes are located, because it has not yet produced any such lists for municipalities.

But a rough estimate based on each city’s share of B.C.’s population suggests there could be 2,500 high-consumption homes in Vancouver, 1,700 in Surrey and 900 in Burnaby.

And Delta — which has just eight officers in its entire drug section — could soon be getting a list of about 450.

Sgt. Harj Sidhu, head of the Delta police drug section, said dealing with that volume of tips will be a challenge.

“Is it going to be easy? No,” he said. “Obviously that’s going to mean we’ll have to come up with some systematic approach to deal with those numbers. We’re going to have to start whittling that list down.”

Sidhu said the drug unit may require extra officers to tackle the list or could risk “burnout” among his staff.

Vancouver police spokesman Const. Howard Chow agreed the lists could pose a challenge.

“Undoubtedly, if the numbers are huge, it will take a while to get through them,” he said.

Growing operations require massive amounts of electricity. But until recently, BC Hydro, citing privacy legislation, would only release information on a home’s electricity consumption to police or municipal inspectors if they already had an address under investigation.

Under the new law, Hydro and other electricity providers will be required to provide — to any city that asks for it — a list of all addresses in their jurisdiction with high consumption, plus two years’ billing records for each address.

Sidhu said he hopes those billing records will help police decide which of the hundreds of addresses to target — since the largest growing operations also use the most electricity.

“Logically speaking, that’s the only way we’d be able to deal with it,” he said.

Hydro and the police caution that not all homes with high electricity consumption are growing operations.

Hot tubs and swimming pools, for example, can cause increased electricity use.

BC Hydro spokeswoman Elisha Moreno said the utility will provide municipalities with a software tool to help them interpret the data — by, for example, identifying consumption patterns that are consistent with winter baseboard heating.

Moreno said the utility has so far received only one request for consumption data from a municipality and should be sending out its first list of addresses within the next month.

She wouldn’t identify which municipality had made the request.

While police will have access to the electricity consumption lists, the information can also be used by city inspectors and fire departments to shut down growing operations without a criminal investigation.

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