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Bitcoin-Mining “Hurting” [sic] Texas’ Power Grid

“Record-breaking heat across Texas has pushed its fragile power grid to the brink,” reports NBC News. “But extreme temperatures are doing something else in the famously pro-business state: stirring opposition to energy-guzzling crypto miners who’ve flocked there seeking low-cost energy and a deregulatory stance.”

Ten industrial-scale crypto miners will consume an estimated 18 gigawatts in years to come — though the state’s current capacity is around 80 gigawatts (though it’s expected to grow).

The case against them?
The energy crypto miners use puts “an almost unprecedented burden” on the Texas grid, according to Ben Hertz-Shargel, global head of Grid Edge, a unit of Wood Mackenzie, an energy consulting firm. Mining “pushes the system closer to dangerous system peaks at all times,” he told NBC News. “It is completely inessential and consuming physical resources, time and money that should be going to decarbonize and strengthen the grid….”

Unlike other electricity systems, the Texas grid does not connect to other states’ grids; that means it cannot receive power from other areas in emergencies. Because of their high demand for electricity, crypto miners raise costs for other consumers of power, Hertz-Shargel said. And, on the Texas grid, miners can get paid for powering down during peak demand periods, like the one that recently hit the state. Miners and other industrial customers with these types of arrangements receive revenues for not using electricity; the costs of those revenues are passed on to other electricity customers…. During peak periods, miners can also resell to the grid the electricity they would otherwise have used. Because their contracts can let them buy power at low cost, energy resales when demand is high can generate significant financial benefits in the form of credits against future use….

Electricity customers across the state will cover those credits, said Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. “Ratepayers in Texas are going to be paying it off a little bit every month for decades,” Dessler said. “It angers me so much.”

But Lee Bratcher, founder of the Texas Blockchain Council, makes the case for industrial-scale bitcoin mines:
Bratcher and the crypto miners he represents say they provide three benefits to Texas. Because they can turn off their electricity use during high-demand periods, they can help stabilize the grid and rein in runaway power prices. “Power pricing is set off at peaks and the miners are specifically trying to turn off during peaks,” he said. In addition, crypto miners’ 24/7 demand for electricity can provide an incentive for wind and solar developers to bring more green power to the grid while new jobs and tax revenues “lead to orders of magnitude of human flourishing in communities where the mines set up,” Bratcher said.

Still, 800 locals have signed a petition against plans to built America’s largest bitcoin-mining facility — a facility which will consume 1.4 million gallons of water a day and 1 gigawatt of electricity (enough to power 200,000 homes).
Jackie Sawicky, a small-business owner, is organizing the opposition to the Riot facility. “There are over 7,000 people in poverty and 8,000 seniors living on fixed incomes here,” she told NBC News. “We cannot afford increased water costs and electricity.”

According to a 2020 economic impact report commissioned by the Rockdale Municipal Development District, an entity run by area businesspeople, the facility will deliver an estimated $28.5 million in economic benefits to the community over 10 years. The operation employs “nearly 200 full-time benefited employees…”

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Energy cost of ‘mining’ bitcoin more than twice that of copper or gold

The amount of energy required to “mine” one dollar’s worth of bitcoin is more than twice that required to mine the same value of copper, gold or platinum, according to a new paper, suggesting that the virtual work that underpins bitcoin, ethereum and similar projects is more similar to real mining than anyone intended.

One dollar’s worth of bitcoin takes about 17 megajoules of energy to mine, according to researchers from the Oak Ridge Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, compared with four, five and seven megajoules for copper, gold and platinum.

Other cryptocurrencies also fair poorly in comparison, the researchers write in the journal Nature Sustainability, ascribing a cost-per-dollar of 7MJ for ethereum and 14MJ for the privacy focused cryptocurrency monero. But all the cryptocurrencies examined come off well compared with aluminium, which takes an astonishing 122MJ to mine one dollar’s worth of ore.

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Bitcoin Mining Now Accounts For Almost One Percent of the World’s Energy Consumption

It is well-established established that Bitcoin mining — aka, donating one’s computing power to keep a cryptocurrency network up and running in exchange for a chance to win some free crypto — uses a lot of electricity. Companies involved in large-scale mining operations know that this is a problem, and they’ve tried to employ various solutions for making the process more energy efficient.

But, according to testimony provided by Princeton computer scientist Arvind Narayanan to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, no matter what you do to make cryptocurrency mining harware greener, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the overall network’s flabbergasting energy consumption. Instead, Narayanan told the committee, the only thing that really determines how much energy Bitcoin uses is its price. “If the price of a cryptocurrency goes up, more energy will be used in mining it; if it goes down, less energy will be used,” he told the committee. “Little else matters. In particular, the increasing energy efficiency of mining hardware has essentially no impact on energy consumption.”

In his testimony, Narayanan estimates that Bitcoin mining now uses about five gigawatts of electricity per day (in May, estimates of Bitcoin power consumption were about half of that). He adds that when you’ve got a computer racing with all its might to earn a free Bitcoin, it’s going to be running hot as hell, which means you’re probably using even more electricity to keep the computer cool so it doesn’t die and/or burn down your entire mining center, which probably makes the overall cost associated with mining even higher.

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Bitcoin driving huge electricity demand, environmental impact

In a normal year, demand for electric power in Chelan County grows by perhaps 4 megawatts ­­— enough for around 2,250 homes — as new residents arrive and as businesses start or expand. But since January 2017, as Bitcoin enthusiasts bid up the price of the currency, eager miners have requested a staggering 210 megawatts for mines they want to build in Chelan County. That’s nearly as much as the county and its 73,000 residents were already using. And because it is a public utility, the PUD staff is obligated to consider every request.

The scale of some new requests is mind-boggling. Until recently, the largest mines in Chelan County used five megawatts or less. In the past six months, by contrast, miners have requested loads of 50 megawatts and, in several cases, 100 megawatts. By comparison, a fruit warehouse uses around 2.5 megawatts.

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