Law enforcement officials seized more than 2,000 growing plants and 10 pounds of harvested cannabis at a home in Norridgewock on Feb. 8, the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office said. It was one of several recent raids of illegal growing operations in rural parts of the state. In an effort to crack down on the problem, the Public Utility Commission is considering allowing power companies to alert police about electricity surges that could help them locate more sites. Courtesy Somerset County Sheriff’s Office

The Public Utilities Commission is weighing a proposal that would authorize Central Maine Power Co., Versant Power and other utilities to give law enforcement agencies confidential information pointing them to illegal marijuana growing operations.

The PUC is considering changes to a broad set of rules governing billing and payments, service disconnection, dispute resolution and other practices. One provision – confidentiality of customer information – touches on whether utilities may give law enforcement information about suspected illegal activity, such as cannabis growing operations that draw tremendous amounts of electricity for lights and fans that sometimes run 24 hours a day.

A possible change, which Versant proposed, would allow a utility to disclose to third parties such as law enforcement agencies, “pursuant to lawful process,” the name, address, email, telephone number, electricity or gas use, payment and credit history, and financial or medical condition of a customer without their consent.

In testimony to the PUC, Versant Power said utilities should be permitted to disclose customer information to law enforcement when there is “good faith belief” of a crime. Illegal cannabis growing operations are an “escalating problem” in Versant’s service territory in northern and central Maine, the utility said.

Versant can identify such “operations with a high degree of certainty” based on rural residential service addresses; installation of, or requests for, large amounts of power; damage to Versant equipment caused by high usage or improper customer installations; extremely high energy consumption and other commercial activities; and installations unusual for a residence, it said.

Illegal cannabis growing in Maine is getting increased attention. The state’s congressional delegation has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and help Maine officials crack down on operations that benefit Chinese investors. The owner of a legal cannabis dispensary estimates that the illegal operations are selling cannabis for half the price paid to legal growers.


An internal memo by the U.S. Border Patrol said an estimated 270 illegal Chinese cannabis growing operations in Maine are generating about $4.37 billion in revenue.

Energy consumption at illegal grow sites is often more than 3,000 kilowatt-hours a month, Versant said.

The utility said it has received subpoenas for information about illegal cannabis growing operations that “have been consistent with the accounts and locations Versant was aware of.” But the current confidentiality rule “chills Versant’s ability to cooperate with law enforcement to resolve this serious issue,” it said.

The average U.S. residential electricity customer used about 900 kWh a month in 2022, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.


Growing 4 pounds of cannabis at an indoor facility can consume as much electricity as the average American home uses in a year, according to the financial news outlet Benzinga. Cannabis growth accounts for 1% of all U.S. electricity consumption a year, and is expected to increase to 3% by 2035, it said.


PUC Chairman Philip L. Bartlett II said Versant proposed the change that regulators are considering. The PUC’s primary consideration is nonpayment of electricity bills that would eventually be passed on to all other ratepayers. “We pay close attention to the collection practices of utilities, that they have reasonable approaches,” he said in an interview.

Many growers register as residential customers, who have stronger protections against electricity shut-offs than businesses, Bartlett said.

However, perhaps because illegal growers risk prosecution, they keep a low profile and pay their bills promptly, the utilities said. They’re “not typically the ones we’re having trouble with collecting payment from,” Linda Ball, CMP’s vice president of customer service, told the PUC at a public hearing last week.

“What we’ve seen is they’re trying to run under the radar, and they don’t call us, they don’t talk to us and they just pay the bill,” Ball said.

CMP told the PUC it supports the proposed changes, though Mark Morisette, the utility’s director of billing and revenue recovery, warned regulators of the potential for erroneous assumptions when electricity use rises unexpectedly. He cited a recent instance in which a customer’s electricity usage, which typically had been 2 kWh or 3 kWh a day, jumped to more than 250 kWh a day, he said.

The customer hired a company to use fans and heaters to dry the home out after it was flooded, Morisette said at the recent PUC hearing. “And, boy, I would not be comfortable at all if we were to raise a flag on that customer to possibly get law enforcement involved,” he said.


Arrian Myrick Stockdell, Versant’s corporate counsel, suggested to the PUC that a threshold, perhaps 3,000 kWh a month, be established before law enforcement is notified. “We’d be very grateful for the ability to have any type of cutoff that would permit that type of disclosure to law enforcement,” he said.


Separately, state lawmakers are considering legislation that would require utility companies to report a private citizen’s power usage to law enforcement and ban certain foreign nationals from purchasing property in Maine.

ACLU of Maine Policy Counsel Michael Kebede said the bill – which drew strong opposition – would constitute a violation of privacy protected by the Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.

Under the proposal, utilities would be required to generate a “suspicious power use report” when a 400 ampere or more total service is installed or a service at a residential property is upgraded to 400 amperes or more. A month-to-month increase in power consumption of greater than 500% for a residential customer also would trigger a report under the legislation.

The ACLU of Maine did not submit a comment on the public utilities commission docket and did not return messages Thursday about whether the commission’s proposed rule change raises similar privacy concerns for them.

The rules being considered by the PUC are likely to be made final by May, Bartlett said.

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