Bitcoins and block chains are back.
The Missoula County Commission will revive its public hearing on cryptocurrency mining at 2 p.m. Sept. 27 to consider ways to possibly mitigate impacts like noise, electronic waste and energy consumption from commercial and industrial development. Commissioners are seeking public input on whether and how to regulate those impacts.
Diana Maneta, the county’s energy conservation and sustainability coordinator, said she’ll present additional information they’ve gathered in response to questions that were raised during the June 14 public hearing, which originally had been continued until Aug. 9 but was rescheduled.
“We hadn’t had a chance to have a separate internal discussion with the commission on where they wanted us to go on this, so the hearing was postponed,” Maneta said.
While the county initially was considering putting a one-year ban on new or increased cryptocurrency operations, Maneta said that at this point, the commissioners are considering alternatives for interim zoning.
“What they’ve indicated to staff is they’re interested in looking at the possibility of investigating regulations targeting some of the impacts associated with this industry,” Maneta said. “They’re looking at noise regulations, e-waste regulations and anything they can do regarding energy, not just with this industry but more generally, too.”
During the June public hearing, about 75 people crowded into Room 151 of the County Courthouse Annex to hear two hours of presentations and testimony about a proposed one-year ban on new or expanded cryptocurrency activity in Missoula County. The county also received about 65 written comments on the proposal.
The comments at the hearing generally were split in support of or opposition to the proposed moratorium.
Many of those opposed to the activity were Bonner residents, who live near a large facility where Project Spokane has set up a Bitcoin mining operation. They voiced concerns about the noise generated by about 400 fans in the warehouse — whose blades have been switched out to make them quieter — as well as possible increased greenhouse gas emissions from the operations.
They also were worried about the amount of energy consumed to create Bitcoins, which is equivalent to as much electricity as the average American household burns through in two years, according to the New York Times. The commission fears that growth in electrical demand may pose a reliability and safety risk to local electric distribution systems, and increase rates for other customers.
Supporters of the Bonner Bitcoin operation noted how they’ve returned good-paying jobs for the community, and Project Spokane recently touted how quiet the new fans are now. During the public hearing, Project Spokane Manager Dan Stivers said they buy clean, renewable hydroelectric sources of electricity from Energy Keepers Inc. at the former Kerr Dam, and added that they’re in compliance with all existing laws, regulations and codes. He said they also recycle, repurpose or remarket all spent hardware.
Bitcoins are the most popular of about 1,200 types of cryptocurrency, which are intangible digital assets with values that vary from day to day, or even minute by minute. The cryptocurrency is “mined” by high-powered computers solving complicated mathematical problems.
When successful, the cryptocurrency is put on a public transaction ledger called a blockchain. Cryptographic puzzles are solved and new transactions are added to the blockchains about every 10 minutes, according to Maneta. As more miners join the system, the puzzles become increasingly difficult and require more computing power, and more electricity, to solve.
Montana and the Pacific Northwest are popular with cryptocurrency miners because the climate helps cool the hundreds of computers needed for large operations, and the cost of electricity is fairly low.
Maneta said that while some people may be focused on the Bonner operation, the discussion at the public hearing isn’t specific to that particular business.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that comes up … but these are more broad and general about the cryptomining industry and the potential for expanding, so it’s not targeted at that facility in Bonner,” Maneta said.
The county is encouraging comments and attendance at the hearing. Background information is available on the county’s website. Comments may also be submitted at any time prior to the hearing through the online form.