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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Shared meter data led to arrest

    The electric meter outside your house helps the power company determine just how much to bill you every month. But it can also give authorities a peek into your life to see if you've been up to no good.

    A former state trooper learned that lesson when Dorchester County deputies raided his Ridgeville rental property in January 2010 and discovered a sophisticated indoor marijuana farm.

    Court papers recently filed in the case revealed that investigators were tipped off by the tenant's utility company. Edisto Electric workers called police after noticing unusually high electricity use on the property and numerous instances of tripping circuits, authorities said.

    The find was a boon for law enforcement, but it raises questions about the electric company's role in the process: Should a utility function as an arm of law enforcement and share information about its paying customers without a warrant based purely on its suspicions?

    Edisto Electric, a rural electric cooperative based in Bamberg, refused to comment on the incident or its policies for sharing information with police. Spokesman Frank Furtick cited the pending criminal case and "a policy of Edisto Electric to refrain from publicly commenting on such things."

    Area police and utility company officials say such incidents are relatively rare, and some power companies insist they wouldn't turn in customers simply because their bills are high. Spikes in power usages more often result from faulty heating systems, leaking duct work or other mundane maladies, they said.

    Santee Cooper workers have notified police when they've stumbled across marijuana farms, but utility officials couldn't recall reporting anyone for high energy use, spokeswoman Mollie Gore said.

    South Carolina Electric and Gas spokesman Eric Boomhower was even more direct.

    "Do we report people to authorities based on a given customer's electric usage? The answer is a flat-out 'No.' "

    Big Brother concerns

    The potential for power company privacy intrusions has sparked debates in California, Florida and other states with the spread of so-called "smart" meters that transmit consumption data to utilities from homes and businesses.

    Designed to make America's power transmission system more efficient, the meters have drawn suspicion from folks worried about Big Brother spying on their household habits.

    Identifying illicit pot growers through excessive electrical use is nothing new. Indoor growers often give themselves away by using high-intensity lamps and climate-control equipment to nurture their plants.

    Tracking diverted power helped police in suburban Port St. Lucie, Fla., shut down dozens of grow houses five years ago. Or take the case of a Nashville grower undone two years ago by racking up electricity bills three times larger than his neighbors'.

    In most cases, however, police approach power companies for information after receiving a tip or evidence of a marijuana-growing operation.

    In the Dorchester County case, Edisto Electric took the first step and, in essence, became a police informant, authorities said.

    Dorchester County sheriff's Maj. John Garrison said the utility was being a good corporate citizen and helped the sheriff's office uncover a significant growing operation that might otherwise have escaped attention.

    "I don't know if we would have found it without them," he said.

    Narcotics Detective Shaun Tumbleston testified in a hearing on the case last week that Edisto Electric was concerned in late 2009 because its workers kept having to go to Stable Lane to reset a transformer after the circuits overloaded. They couldn't figure out why a rural property with no residence was racking up electric bills of $800 a month, he said.

    That tip yielded several arrests and the seizure of more than 300 marijuana plants being grown in the sheds and a container on the property of former state trooper Kurt Steffen, authorities said.

    A duty to share?

    Danny Lee Kyllo is an Oregon man whose marijuana-growing case helped define national standards for police searches. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled authorities overstepped their bounds when they uncovered more than 100 pot plants in his home based on heat detected by a thermal imaging camera. The court ruled that a warrant was needed to conduct such a search.

    Kyllo, who is writing a book about his case, said he was troubled by several aspects of the Dorchester County incident, including the utility company's willingness to drop a dime on a customer who paid for a service.

    "For them to call up the police on this person because the electric bill was too high, that is going beyond what that service is supposed to be," he said.

    However, Charleston criminal defense lawyer Michael O'Connell said the power company appears to be within its right to do so.

    "People don't have an expectation to privacy in every area of their lives," he said. "And I don't think you have a privacy as to what your electricity bill is."

    The issue is bound to crop up again, as indoor marijuana cultivation is said to be on the rise as growers use advanced hydroponic techniques to avoid scrutiny in open fields. Indoor growers are estimated to consume about 1 percent of the nation's electricity, enough to power some 2 million homes, according to a study released last year by Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

    Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy & Technology, said questions about the Dorchester County case are part of a larger debate about a lack of national privacy standards.

    Under current law, customers have no constitutional right to protect data held by third-party companies they do business with, whether it be a utility, bank or Internet travel service, Dempsey said. In an age when more business is being conducted electronically, police often no longer need to bust down your door to learn your habits and intimate secrets, he said.

    "There is all of this sensitive data all over the place," he said. "That data is only getting richer, and it's only getting easier to collect it, analyze it and share it."


    BY GLENN SMITH
    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2012/jan/29/pot-bust-shines-light-on-utilities/

Comments

  1. godztear
    Unfortunately this is nothing new, in the sense of what actually goes on.

    2004 - There was a case in Illinois where someone happened to come home after a couple day vacation to other cities to find their front door kicked in with notarized documentation left on the kitchen table as to why the home was raided for cultivation of marijuana. The tip off came directly from the electric company who noted that in the first 2 months of new rental the electricity was at what was considered to be normal. The following 4 months had electricity ratings that where exceptionally high, therefore a home raid was authorized by a judge to dismantle a growing operation and recovered only 4 almost mature plants with approximately 50 clones.

    There was absolutely no sales from this home, as time shows the growing span was very short but the electric company blew the whistle anyway.

    This goes above and beyond the electric companies authority. This goes all the way to the judge who signed off on the search warrant.

    Charges were eventually dropped 2 years later due to an unlawful search and seizure from another judge who precedes over criminal cases.
  2. SpatialReason
    I actually study this in my smart grid research through my scholarly duties.

    In fact, there are a lot of cases where AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructures) that were implemented found grow houses.

    Through this, I have learned some pretty funny stories. What tops all of that though is when it actually happened in the neighborhood!! Someone dug into the slab of a rental home and tapped into the power post-meter. The guy didn't fully understand that neighborhood distribution transformer boxes for underground distribution typically have power-line communication or other means for data polling for advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). The power company, after a year, noticed that their distribution transformer had a large night time resistive and inductive load on it. Being that was the case, they did some billing auditing throughout the neighborhood.

    They found the house and busted this dude.

    Usually people doing this stuff aren't smart. If one knows what they are doing, it is quite easy to generate power yourself and never have anyone be the wiser. :) Alternate energy generation methods are not only meant for being green! If one is going to be growin' green, they need to embrace their inner hippie and learn to go off the grid. :p

    Well, it is easy for me since this is my fascination and expertise. The applications of electrical engineering knows no bounds sometimes. lol

    So next time, just remember this: power usage, in any automated grow setup, can be quite high if the scale exceeds any more than just one plant. The utility has more than just "meter readers" now as they implement smart meters with two-way communication. It is also even more evident that there is something fishy going on with water pumps for irrigation and cooling systems. When you start adding inductive loads to the equation, the "notice me" factor jumps through the roof.

    As for the legal factors of this, a lot of the cases involved illegal power stealing or uses of power that were not within contract. The power company would send someone to shut it off and they would, in some way, notice something fishy. After they see something fishy, they contact authorities. The authorities show up and from that point on, all the legal mumbo-jumbo comes into play that I don't get into.

    These guys usually don't get off the hook because these types of operations prove to be semi-major. I don't agree with attempting to "get out of a power bill," but the method of busting that bothers me is infrared guns. What happens if I poorly insulate my attic and turn it into a game room with a heater during winter! D:
  3. dnb_coqui
    If you're going to invest in an indoor grow operation, you might as well go all the way and purchase solar power cells to assist in the energy consumption in the house. Beats paying lawyers and facing incarceration for overlooking such a simple solution
  4. Terrapinzflyer
    ^^^ sorry- but solar is simply not a realistic option for powering indoor grows. One is talking 20++ 120-160W panels per 1kw light foF flowering, add 50% for vegetative.

    And the meter readers are not stupid- when they see a 10kw array or a generator yet see normal power consumption it raises just as many red flags.

    The truth is indoor production is highly unnatural & energy consumptive.
  5. Exitlude
    Perhaps not in hiding power consumption, but for lessening the impact on one's power bill it should work OK. Realistically a solar setup must to be properly installed and connected to the grid though. As a cost-decreasing device at least, it would work just fine. For instance, a friend of mine installed a 1.5kW system (8 panels) a few years ago and every sunny day he feeds energy back to the grid and gets paid for it. In terms of actual power bills, he says it has cut down amount he pays during summer by at least two thirds and cuts his annual bill in half. One could probably fill that price drop with some lights if they were so inclined.
  6. SpatialReason
    If one knows what they are doing and got land, one can take a DC motor, attach capacitance at the windings, and use low profile conical wind turbine generation. It would cost a fair penny, but you can do so. In combination with solar arrays and a small battery bank, the load could be met.

    Also another valid method is biogas from all waste products from any plant materials. The correct bacterial introductions can make methane. If harnessed, more power can be made during the peak cycles of production.

    Green power tech takes a lot of elbow grease and sweat, but it is possible to sustain a large load with equipment connections and know-how.

    I would die at that article: recently busted large scale pot production facility was using "green technology"

    There are methods of solar power concentration as well, and one can heat a room using concentrators. Of course, your point is valid. $25,000 worth of green energy tech on a semi-abandoned place seems funky on multiple levels.

    The other idea: get a natural gas generator on land with a processed gas pipeline. That utility is actually a business and cares a lot less as long as you pay up. Most generator taps also use remote billing reads. Hehe... Knowledge is power.

    I'll shut up now.
  7. capecoralecstasy
    Yeah, they dont use meters to catch people.

    They detect the people stealing the power, or redirecting right to their house.(Mexicans mostly).Which then the electric company calls the police to come to your house.

    Or the police flys around in there helicopter (like my city), and use FLIR camera to detect high heat level (UV rays) coming from your house. Because of the lights and blowers.

    Or snitch ass people calling you in.
  8. Terrapinzflyer
    How can you say this when this article, among others here, clearly state otherwise?

    [quote=capecoralecstasy[/quote]They detect the people stealing the power, or redirecting right to their house.(Mexicans mostly).[/QUOTE]

    What does race have to do with this? In more then twenty years the only commonality the turtles aardvark has seen is large scale commercial production.
  9. capecoralecstasy
    What does race have to do with this? In more then twenty years the only commonality the turtles aardvark has seen is large scale commercial production.[/QUOTE]

    If it was true, then everybody would be caught.

    and I says Mexican cause I live in Florida. who steal power and get caught 24/7
  10. HARDDON
    Some of you should really learn what it costs to cultivate indoors.

    Lights are only part of the puzzle. You also have fans for circulation, air filters for odor control and ventilation.

    You can easily grow two pounds off six great plants using low energy floors for side lights (5500 Kelvin...the more the merrier) in both veg and flower state. One six hundred metal halide and one one thousand watt high pressure sodium running 18 hours a day will only raise your bill 30 bucks a month.

    Cut back on your clothes dryer use. Those dryers run 3,000 to 5,000 watts. Offset your usage with other appliances.

    Point is, with a small grow, you can kick ass and grow bountiful harvest with minimal electric impact...thus negating electric company attention to begin with.

    Keep it small is more advantageous than going apeshit and running 5 one thousand watt bulb systems.

    Using good Mylar, white reflective paint and sealing light escape all ad up to reducing need for more light for optimal plant growth and flower stages.
  11. HARDDON
    Err... meant to say low watt floros....

    You can get a lot of light from floros...and get them within one inch of plant surface for first month to six weeks of vegetative state.using no more than 400 watts.
  12. Terrapinzflyer
    A bit disrespectful methinks- many here know exactly what it takes.

    And in case you failed to read the original story- it related to 300 plants. And most busts that originate from the power company are likewise commercial sized grows. No commercial producer is going to offset an $800 electric bill by doing their laundry at the laundromat.
  13. davestate
    For larger scale grow ops, the news article certainly rings true. However, for the small time, personal use grower, who typically has a 400, 600 or 1000watt HPS light, a 100-150mm fan + CF and perhaps (if the grow area is cold) a small 400watt heater, the amount of electricity used on top isn't all that much when you consider just how much everyday household items use.

    Anyway I don't want to go too off topic, but bear with me: whilst the personal use grower should always be cautious, in reality for anything under 10plants, the increase in electric usage isn't going to be noticeable, in cold countries, power usage goes up in winter because people use heaters, tumble driers etc more, and when it's hot power usage can go up due to air conditioning being used.
    However if you're still worried (or want to save money!) there are a few simple things you can do:
    Switch incandescent bulbs to fluorescent (incandescent bulbs can range from 40-100watts each, fluros are usually between 5-15watts)
    Avoid using the immersion water heater, use central heating (oil or gas)to heat your water
    Switch off TV's, PC's DVD players at the plug, don't use standby. typically 5-10% of residential electricity use in most developed countriesis from items on standby!
    Dry your clothes on the radiator or on a washing line as tumble dryers are very hard on electric. A clothes dryer accounts for a whopping 12% of electricity use in a typical household.
    This one is related to growing specifically: Use a 18h on/6h off or 20/4 cycle during veg, rather than having lights on 24hours a day. The results are very similar, and you save a quarter of the electric by using 18/6 instead of 24/0

    From what I heard on other forums, most growers (personal use sized) in the UK get busted by smell, or by people talking. It's rare for people to get busted by electric usage, and most of the time people do get busted by electric companies reporting to the police is due to non payment of a bill, stealing electricity or tampering with the meter.

    I also noticed this:
    To trip a transformer means he was using some serious amounts! I know HPS lights have a high inductive load when starting, but damn, tripping a transformer! Combine that with the fact noone was living there does seem suspicious.

    These guys in the news article were big producers, like Terrapinz said, you can't offset that!
  14. CaptainTripps
    My information may be somewhat dated. But here it is for what it is worth. In the course of my job , which I will not explain, we had a guest speaker who worked for Seattle City Light. A lot of things were discussed, but the interesting thing had to do with power theft. In fact that is what this gentlemen did, he investigated power theft. Of course this had to lead to the inevitable issue of indoor grows.

    Basically, he said most marijuana grows that were caught with the help of city light were from investigations of power theft. In other words, it was not high electric bills that were the red flag, but low ones. Or perhaps, I should say a significant reduction someones power bill. He stated that when a bill drops they assume either a broken meter or theft. What is interesting is that in some cases the reason for the drop was not theft, but a change in how someone was using power in their home. One bust occurred because the homeowner had switched their hot water and heating to natural gas. When city light came out to investigate, they found out that windows were blacked out and there was that tell tale smell. So Seattle PD was called. The speaker said had this person notified city light that they had switched to natural gas, they probably would never had been investigated. This is something to consider if you are thinking of using generators or other alternate energy sources.

    Another issue that is coming with technology is smart meters that show "when" power is used. This is important because if at exactly 12:06 pm the power usage goes up almost exactly 4000 watts and 18 hours later it drops by 4000 watts and this happens everyday, it does not take a rocket scientist to know someone is running 4 lights. One way around this is to use more than one room and run lights at different times. It also helps if they are on different cycles, two on grow, two on flower. Lights can be staggered as well, in one room having fist light come on at 12;00 and the second coming on at 1:00 or 2;00. This works well for grow as an extra couple of hours of light won't hurt, this does not work as well for flower as you don't want more than 12 hours on and you want as much intensity during that time as possible. Even without smart meters do you really want the meter reader to come by and seeing the meter spin so fast their head spins? Always best to stagger and use more outside of business hours, of course night time does make heat sensing easier. However, this is not a common method in Seattle.

    My understanding that the primary means of discovery are investigations into sales of marijuana and incidents relating to domestic disputes and loud parties.

    I guess the point he made was that Seattle City Light was not necessarily interested in finding marijuana grows, they were interested in proper billing and avoiding theft. Of course they did come on something suspicious, they were "good citizens" and reported it.

    Nothing in the above is to suggest a very high power bill is also not a red flag, just that it is not the only red flag. Also, I am not encouraging anyone to break any laws.
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