ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Illegal marijuana growers are increasingly using solar power to operate large-scale operations in an attempt to remain off the grid and avoid detection from law enforcement agents, authorities said.
In isolated regions of the country, law enforcement agencies say they are finding more growers going green and trying to be self-sufficient by drawing power directly from the sun.
New Mexico State Police recently busted up a marijuana operation around the Four Corners region that used solar panels to pump water. And authorities in California have stepped up enforcement against solar panel thefts from vineyards that they believe were headed to illegal growers.
"We're definitely seeing more and more of it," said New Mexico State Police Lt. Robert McDonald. "I think since the cartels down in Mexico are now having such a hard time getting their product up here that some growers are trying to grow it themselves and to (stop) us from finding them by using solar. It definitely makes it harder."
During last month's bust in New Mexico, agents raided a solar-operated facility and seized around 250 marijuana plants that were between six- to eight-feet tall in an isolated area of Rio Arriba County.
In 2010, police in Socorro, N.M., pulled more than 1,500 plants from three locations in a marijuana operation that detectives called "very elaborate and sophisticated." Police said the operation use solar panels, water pumps, batteries and hundreds of yards of hose that functioned on timers.