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LONDON (Reuters) - Cannabis farms are sucking millions of pounds worth of power off the Britain's energy grid, the industry regulator said on Wednesday, as it announced a clamp down on electricity theft that will force power companies to act or face fines.
Regulator Ofgem said at least 200 million pounds of electricity is stolen in Britain each year. As much as a third of that is used to feed illegal cannabis farms, it said.
New proposals, due to be in operation by 2015, will require suppliers to detect, investigate and prevent electricity theft, liaising with police forces and government. Similar rules were introduced for gas theft earlier this year.
Indoor cannabis farms, which use artificial light to mimic the effect of the sun, use around 40 times more electricity than normal households, Ofgem said.
The six big energy suppliers that control the bulk of the retail market in Britain are EDF Energy, Centrica, SSE, RWE's npower, E.ON and Iberdrola's Scottish Power.
Angela Knight, head of Energy UK, the trade association for the electricity and gas companies, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Ofgem was right to highlight the issue and that industry was keen to "step up to the plate." But she expressed some reservations about its announcement of threatened fines.
"It's a bit of a pity they've done it that way, but working with Ofgem to get this right, we're absolutely up for that.
"This is complicated, (the cannabis growers) are bypassing the system, so the normal meter reading, you don't pick it up." She said the industry would need significant help from the police as those involved tended to be fraudsters and gangs.
Cannabis is a 'class B' drug in Britain, which means those who supply and produce it can be imprisoned for up to 14 years and/or face an unlimited fine.
Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien. Editing by Jane Merriman