Corey Pelletier fell in love with growing plants last spring.
It started with just a few plants on his window sill but quickly grew to overtake his basement, where he has set up a year-round growing habitat for dozens of flowering species, including several tropical varieties.
But lately, Pelletier’s newly found green thumb has gotten more expensive as energy prices continue to rise around the state.
Residents and business owners in Maine have been feeling the pinch from spiking energy costs over the past several months, and people who grow plants and vegetables indoors are yet another victim of those soaring costs. Price increases in gasoline, diesel, heating oil, natural gas, propane and electricity have been steady since the beginning of the year, fuel that is essential for indoor plants that depend on artificial lights and consistent warmth.
Electricity rates in Maine are the highest they have been in a decade. Heating oil is almost 93 percent more expensive than this time a year ago. Natural gas and propane is not far behind.
For Pelletier, it’s adding hundreds of dollars a month to pursue his newfound passion.
“When I moved my plants into the basement, I realized they needed more heat,” Pelletier said. “I opened up some furnace ducts and added some space heaters and right away there was a 75 percent increase in my heating costs and my little project was costing me $300 a month.”
Todd Bangs, owner of Windswept Gardens in Bangor, said he’s seen a huge jump in his costs to keep his six greenhouses warm enough for his growing flowers.
“It’s now costing us two to three times what it cost us last year in running expenses [and] it’s the worst I have ever seen,” Bangs said. “We are dealing with it the best we can and trying to hold our prices steady.”
Pelletier said his bills should go down as the weather warms and he can move some of his plants outside. But he’s worried about his succulents and tropical plants that need more warmth than a Maine summer can provide.
Beyond that, he’s making plans to be more energy efficient.
Pelletier is currently using a special grow tent with lights he got from a woman who had used it to grow marijuana indoors. He said moving it from the basement to a warmer upstairs bedroom should cut down on the amount of power required to operate it.
Bangs is doing what he can to save on his own heating costs in his greenhouses where he estimates he used 1,500 gallons of heating oil and 2,000 gallons of propane over the past year.
“Greenhouses are notorious for not being energy efficient,” Bangs said. “You are basically heating the outdoors.”
To help curb those costs, Bangs is in the process of converting all of his heating systems to run on the slightly less costly propane.
Pelletier is planning to cut further costs by switching over to energy efficient LED lighting for his grow lights. And while he intends to downsize, he does not want to abandon his hobby.
“Even if I was growing produce to sell, I could not justify my light bill,” Pelletier said. “I can’t see myself going through another winter like this past one.”