Computers that mine for bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies consume huge amounts of electricity. The question is whether they also create a lot of local jobs and investment. Photo: David Sommerstein
Jun 14, 2018 — Cryptocurrency developers have set up shop in places like Watertown, Massena, Plattsburgh, and Rouses Point. They’re hoping to get a share of the low-cost electricity those towns get from the hydropower dam on the St. Lawrence River.
But they can’t, at least not yet. The developers, or miners, face a lot of skepticism – so much that the New York Power Authority passed a moratorium on giving them any discounted electricity.
Bitcoin miners had their chance to talk directly to NYPA last week at a cryptocurrency summit at SUNY Plattsburgh.
Bitcoin mining takes a lot of computing power, and a lot of electricity – but typically not that many workers. Keith Hayes says that’s a problem. Hayes, NYPA’s vice president of economic development, said NYPA gives businesses low-cost power based on how many jobs they create.
“Why would you hire 150 people? What are they going to do all day?”
There were roughly 50 people at the Adirondack North Country Association’s cryptocurrency summit, including bitcoin miners and enthusiasts. Hayes told them that NYPA is keeping an open mind. It’s researching the industry and talking to other utilities across the country.
“I’m not saying that this is a bad business or it’s a business that should not exist. What I’m saying is that for the purposes of our low-cost reliable hydropower, we really need to take a hard look as to what we’re putting under long-term contracts,” Hayes said.
One businessman asked how many jobs NYPA wants mining firms to create. “As many as possible,” Hayes said.
Supporters and local officials also discussed the potential spin-off benefits of cryptocurrency mining that could create more jobs, and help businesses or local governments save money – like powering greenhouses with the excess heat from the computers. Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read, who attended the summit, said he supports that idea. Hayes said he’s interested in hearing more about it, and he needs details.
“There may be other applications that folks are not considering at this point that may provide some value or benefit. We don’t know that at this point so we’re certainly keeping an open mind, but we want to make sure we look at this the right way,” Hayes said.
The most important thing, he said, is making sure ratepayers aren’t subsidizing bitcoin miners’ profits.
Albert Lueng was one of the miners in the audience. He moved here from Boston to start a mining company in Rouses Point – a village that recently passed a 2-year moratorium on the industry. Leung got in just in time.
“I want to employ people. I want to make this thing work. Believe me. I’m not trying to take over the world. I’m just an ordinary guy,” Leung told the crowd.
He told NCPR that even with all the skepticism in the room, he was feeling optimistic. “I think the attitude is good, because people are becoming more educated and aware of what it is,” Leung said.
NYPA’s moratorium is temporary but open ended. “We want to make the right decision. We don’t think that there’s a need to rush right into this,” said NYPA’s Keith Hayes – so no clear answers for the cryptocurrency miners and entrepreneurs who want to follow Albert Leung.