Authorities: Marijuana growers using solar power

Associated Press Published: November 23, 2012
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The use of expensive solar panels allows illegal marijuana operations to avoid the need for massive power consumption from nearby power companies, tipping off local and federal authorities, investigators say.

The use also has sparked the demand of solar panels that has resulted in thefts of panels from homes and businesses.

In California's Napa Valley, wineries and vineyards two years ago reported a rash of solar panel thefts that authorities believe were linked to a ring that sold the panels to illegal growers.

Michael Honig, president of Honig Vineyard and Winery in Rutherford, Calif., said after installing 819 solar panels, thieves took off with around 40 panels. "Around 10 to 11 wineries were hit," Honig said. "So was a school."

The heists prompted stepped up enforcement from the Napa Valley Sheriff's Department who increased night patrols and strings, said Deputy Sheriff Jon Thompson.

"Here we had folks trying to do the right thing and go green and they were getting hit," said Thompson. "It hurt, especially when it's $17,000 a panel."

A string eventually nabbed three men who Thompson said were part of a ring that resold the panels.

"It's hard to say for sure but we think they were going directly to growers," said Thompson.

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