By Alfa · Mar 12, 2005 ·
  1. Alfa

    Authorities Not Tipped Off If Hydro Bills Are Paid

    Marijuana-growers use copious quantities of electricity to grow clandestine plants under high-intensity lights, but they need not worry about scrutiny from their power utility, provided they pay their bills. Several hydro suppliers said yesterday they would not report to police a spike in electricity use from any particular address.

    "If they're paying their bills, it's not a hydro theft issue," said Al Manchee, spokesman for Hydro One, Ontario's largest electricity supplier with 1.2 million customers across the province. "We don't get involved in legal issues. We're not a police force."

    Toronto Hydro, which supplies power to the City of Toronto, said a drop in electricity usage would lead to suspicions that someone had tampered with the meter. But a big increase in electricity consumption "wouldn't raise the same kinds of flags," said Blair Peberdy, a spokesman.

    "If it's going through the meter, there is less likelihood that we would notify police," Mr. Peberdy said. "There is a tremendous amount of renovation going on. People add jacuzzis, a new furnace, or air conditioning."

    But if a meter reader notices tampering to steal power, the utility will notify police, he said. He estimates Toronto Hydro lost $2-million to electricity theft last year, much of it linked to those growing pot.

    The group busted for growing marijuana at a former Molson brewery in Barrie, Ont., a year ago had been buying electricity perfectly legally from Barrie Hydro for months before the police raid.

    "They were taking electricity and it was flowing through the meter and they were paying their bills," said George Todd, president of Barrie Hydro, which counts 63,000 customers.

    "The amount of power being used was obviously less than when Molson had it. There were several businesses in the facility. We didn't have any suspicion what they were doing with the electricity."

    Growing marijuana indoors is easy and inexpensive, said Mark Stupak, owner of Happy Girl Hydroponics, a store in Toronto's Kensington Market that supplies equipment to people who grow pot. He sells a kit for $350 that includes a high-intensity discharge light, such as those that brighten the highways, a transformer, which allows you to plug it in, and a fan.

    "Every house has a stove," Mr. Stupak said. "A stove can give you 8,000 watts of electricity. So you can put eight of those units in two rooms, and produce eight pounds of pot in two months selling for $2,000 a pound."

    Mr. Stupak said the death of four police officers in Alberta should not be an excuse to vilify those who grow marijuana.

    "The guy was crazy," he said. "It doesn't matter what he was doing with pot."

    Inspector Bill Ellison of the Toronto Police drug squad said his officers decided not to comment on any aspect of grow operations until next week, out of respect for the families of the slain police.

    "Being the drug squad, it kind of like hits home even harder," he said.

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