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Zapped Out: Washington County Places a Moratorium on Bitcoin Mining

Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:05 PM
Gerelyn Terzo
Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:05 PM

Washington’s Chelan County public utility district (PUD) has drawn a line in the sand on bitcoin miners. Chelan’s PUD won’t accept or process any more applications for the energy-intensive process of cryptocurrency mining, the agency announced .

The moratorium is in response to being “inundated” with applications, and it gives the county the opportunity to potentially lift electricity rates.

Bitcoin miners have been flocking to the region for the hydroelectric potential and cheap power prices, with the number of applications for new capacity year-to-date already nearing 2017’s total.

Chelan County officials are now saying bitcoin mining is placing too much of a strain on the power supply. For instance, county officials said demand from cryptocurrency mining facilities was interfering with their work and put the power grid at risk of missing key targets.

They also pointed to “health” and “safety” concerns for their residents, pointing to “rogue” bitcoin mining operations that need to be examined. Locals who may be looking to jump on the bitcoin mining bandwagon may not have the proper machines and cooling apparatus in place for a safe operation, and this puts others at risk, too.

“We do need time to take a deep breath and work through the issues and this may be the best approach,” noted Commissioner Randy Smith in a meeting.

Rate Review

But apparently, it’s nothing higher electricity rates can’t fix.

The moratorium is in place while the county reviews the impact on utility operations seemingly from the bitcoin mining facilities that are already operational. The review process includes a check on rates for less than 5 MW capacity and the possibility of higher rates for projects of greater scale.

So far, the pipeline for bitcoin mining applications looks as follows –

  • nearly 20 for mining facilities with a capacity of as much as 5mw each for “a potential total load of about 16.3 average” megawatts
  • nearly two dozen “approved and active high-density loads … totaling about 13.5mw”

Before bitcoin mining came to town, the county’s average capacity expansion was 4mw yearly. Chelan’s PUD has made it clear to bitcoin miners previously that the county wasn’t rolling out the welcome mat for them.

For instance, in 2016, they tacked on an electricity tariff for large-scale projects including bitcoin mining operations. The higher rate applied to projects with 250kw hours of power per square foot of yearly capacity.  Several projects with similar capacity had already been filling the pipeline, and their fate remains unclear.

The county’s previous moratorium on more bitcoin miners lasted from 2014 to 2017.  Chelan County will revisit the moratorium on May 14.

Featured image from Shutterstock.