Officials in Missoula County, Montana, are considering turning a temporary measure for bitcoin mining operations – that offsets energy consumption with renewables – into a permanent fixture.
The Missoula County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to extend a measure to reduce the environmental effects of high-energy-consumption mining operations by another year, until April 3, 2021. That followed a consultation period in which 47 members of the public commented in support of the motion, according to a report by the Missoulian Friday.
Under its zoning regulations, Missoula County requires all mining operations – drawn to the area because of its cheap electricity – to either purchase or build renewable sources of energy that completely offset the electricity they consume. The measure also restricts mining operations to designated industrial districts.
The yearlong extension will provide officials with time to consider making the measure permanent. "We are continuing to investigate this issue and this zoning and may ultimately propose it as permanent zoning," said Jennie Dixon of Missoula's community and planning services.
The original measure came after local residents voiced concerns about the power spikes caused by newly arrived mining farms, and was passed as part of a resolution last April that committed the county to operate completely on clean renewable energy by 2030. The requirements don't apply to miners operating before the resolution was passed, so long as they don't then scale up their operations.
At the time, one official complained about the "grotesque amount of energy" consumed by HyperBlock, a bitcoin mining company that reportedly used as much electricity as a third of all homes in the county. The company complained the measures were aimed at them and risked driving them out of business.
Officials denied the measures were intended to target any one business in particular.
During a public hearing Thursday, supporters of the measure said crypto mining placed greater demands on the energy grid, making the county dependent on fossil fuels and accelerating climate change. The attorney representing HyperBlock denied the company was "in any way contributing to climate change in our jurisdiction."
Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said the decision on whether to make the motion permanent or not will depend on whether energy demand in 2020 can be met by renewables. It is likely to become permanent if the county has to increase its reliance on fossil fuels, he said.
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