well-worn idea that bitcoin is helping to trash the planet, throwing fuel on an already burning world while providing value to very few people. By one recent estimate, the energy used to keep the network going, a process known as mining, is enough to power Hungary. But now a Montana county in the heart of crypto-mining territory is taking matters into its own hands, invoking a local climate emergency in a bid to make bitcoin greener.
Missoula County’s strategy rests in the powerful, often-invisible realm of local zoning enforcement. A resolution approved unanimously by county commissioners Thursday, requires new cryptocurrency mining operations to offset their energy use by funding or building new renewable projects. It comes in advance of a resolution that would commit the Missoula area to 100 percent clean electricity by 2030.
“We looked at the potential for new bitcoin mining and saw that we’re never going to meet these goals if mining happens in the way it’s been happening,” says Josh Slotnick, who sits on the board of commissioners. “The use is so extreme it dwarfs everything else in our county.” Mining currently uses as much energy as one-third of the county’s households, or roughly 40,000 people, and directly employs 19 workers.
The people behind Missoula’s only bitcoin mining operation say they don’t buy the county’s logic. The mine, owned by a Canadian company called Hyperblock and located in a former lumber mill in the small town of Bonner, wouldn’t fall under the new rules, which apply only to new operations. But Jason Vaughan, the facility’s manager, says it’s no secret that the company has been planning to grow. “They say that it’s not directed at Hyperblock, but it sure feels like that,” he says. “We’re knee-deep in the process of expanding, and now they’re trying to change the rules on us.” Vaughan says it’s possible that Hyperblock has spent enough planning its expansion that it will be exempt from the resolution. If not, Vaughan says, the company would explore its options for challenging the zoning rules.
Hyperblock’s interest in Bonner reflects the shifting landscape of bitcoin mining, which rewards machines with cryptocurrency for vali
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