Marijuana plantations illegally consume electricity equivalent to a year's consumption in a city like Seville

 Plantation of marijuana hooked to the electrical network.
Plantation of marijuana hooked to the electrical network.
  • Illegal connections linked to marijuana cultivation accounted for 28% of the energy defrauded in the cases detected by Endesa last year.
  • e-distribución, Endesa's network subsidiary, in collaboration with the security forces, disconnected five illegal connections a day last year that were being used to feed marijuana plantations.
  • In 2022 the total number of electrical frauds amounted to more than 55,000, more than 150 a day.
  • Inspections based on complaints by people for suspected fraud increased by 75% in 2022 to reach 21,195.

In the last three years Endesa, through its subsidiary e-distribution networks, has detected about 190,000 cases of electricity fraud. In 2022 alone, 55,167 fraud files were closed, which means an average of more than 150 per day, with a growing preponderance of cases related to marijuana plantations. Estimates indicate that the annual consumption of electricity used illegally to feed these marijuana plantations amounts to 2,200 GWh, the equivalent of the annual consumption for the city of Seville.

"These figures show the dimension of an illegal practice that puts the safety of citizens at serious risk, causes the deterioration of the quality of supply for citizens and makes the bills paid by all consumers more expensive. Endesa is aware of the magnitude of the problem and reiterates its willingness to collaborate with administrations, institutions and security forces to find solutions," said José Manuel Revuelta, General Manager of Endesa Networks.

Electricity fraud generates significant damage in the areas where it occurs. It causes power cuts in areas where there is a high saturation of cases, fires and electric shocks that can affect both the person handing the electrical installation and the people in the immediate vicinity with very serious consequences that can even lead to death.

Theft of electricity for growing marijuana

The problems are especially evident in areas where there is a concentration of fraud linked to marijuana plantations inside homes or buildings, known as indoor plantations. Data from the Statistical Yearbook of the Ministry of the Interior indicate that in 2021 more than 3.3 million cannabis plants were seized in Spain, 96% more than in the previous year and 240% more than in 2018, of which a significant proportion corresponded to indoor plantations.

During the past year, Endesa dismantled, in collaboration with the Security Forces, about 1,800 frauds relating to power for marijuana plantations, an average of five every day. The number of frauds linked to plantations accounted for 3.2% of the total managed last year, but involved 28% of the energy defrauded, with a year-on-year increase of 7.8%, which shows the high consumption of these installations and the distortion they generate in the electricity distribution network in the areas where they are located.

Each plantation consumes on average the same as about 80 homes. The lighting and ventilation systems used to accelerate the growth of the plants need electricity 24 hours a day and obtain it through illegal connections that cause situations of high electrical risk. These overloads cause the transformer centre protection systems to come into operation or underground lines and even transformers to catch fire which affects those living nearby.

Consequences for the supply

Every time a fuse blows due to an overload on the grid, it needs to be replaced in order to recover the supply, but to make the change you have to wait for the temperature in the transformer to fall, which delays the recovery of the supply affecting all local residents. Service recovery in the event of a fire in the line or the transformer is even more complex. E-distribución, which operates as a distribution company in Andalusia, Extremadura, Aragón, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and Catalonia, has been strengthening its networks for years with a view to repairing the damage caused by these plantations on the grid.

When there is extensive fraud in an area, the installations suffer overloads despite the fact that the installed electrical power is five times that needed for those supplies with a contract even when they are consuming at maximum power. As an example, the electricity power that circulates through the transformers that serve the areas where there is most fraud is up to ten times greater than that measured by the meters of those houses with a contract, which should give you an idea of the volume of illegal connections and the amount of energy they use. 

Institutional collaboration

During the past year, Endesa intervened about 2,000 times jointly with the Security Forces to dismantle illegal connections in areas with a high concentration of fraud, where operators are accompanied by agents to be able to do their job safely. This needs to be an ongoing effort because many illegal supplies are re-connected to the grid right after being detected and dismantled.

The seriousness of the situation demands joint action between the different administrations and agents involved to be able to give a solution that guarantees the safety, security and supply of the residents. 

Technology and citizens' complaints

Endesa, through e-distribution, has intensified investment to strengthen the grid and correct the consequences of fraud in electricity infrastructures and is applying the latest technologies to combat this fraud. The company is applying machine learning and deep learning techniques to refine inspections and improve their effectiveness in the fight against fraud. By analysing the data provided as a result of the digitalisation of the grid, deviations and anomalous behaviours can be detected that help guide inspections more efficiently, as well as increasing the percentage of fraud detected.

The company has also reinforced inspections to detect electricity fraud, which occurs in different sectors of activity and segments of the population, although only 14% of the energy recovered as a result of fraud corresponds to small domestic consumers with a contracted power of less than 3.5 KW.

Apart from the company's own actions and joint operations with law enforcement, complaints by citizens also help to detect and dismantle fraud. Last year, e-distribución received 62,769 complaints that generated 21,195 inspections, 75% more than in 2021. Anonymous reports can be made by e-mail to anomalias@enel.com, by calling 800 760 220 or by filling out a form on the website.

 

 

About Endesa

Endesa is the largest electricity company in Spain and the second largest in Portugal. The company is also the second largest gas operator in the Spanish market. Endesa operates an end-to-end generation, distribution and marketing business. Through Endesa X it also offers value-added services aimed at the electrification of energy usage in homes, companies, industries and Public Administrations. A new business line has also been created, Endesa X Way, fully dedicated to electric mobility. Endesa is firmly committed to the United Nations SDGs and strongly supports the development of renewable energies through Enel Green Power España, the digitalisation of grids through e-distribution, and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The Endesa Foundation is also active in CSR-related matters. Our workforce numbers around 9,260 employees. Endesa is a division of Enel, Europe’s largest electricity group.

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