In the past two weeks the Anaconda Leader and The Montana Standard both carried stories about BitCoin Mining coming to the Smelter City. The story broke on December 6, 2017, when representatives of BitPower, LLC and Rick Tabish, spokesman for Premier Industries, the entity which is proposing to construct a slag reprocessing facility in Anaconda, appeared before the Anaconda School District’s Building and Grounds Committee. BitPower/Tabish told the Committee they wanted to purchase the Dwyer School for their BitCoin operation, an activity which would require eight megawatts of electricity, enough electricity to power 6,000 homes.
Bitcoin Mining is an industrial process which converts electricity into BitCoins, a cybercurrency. It does that by running mathematical algorithms through the internet to document and register BitCoin transactions. Thousands of computer servers are needed. The servers generate enormous quantities of heat which must be controlled by huge fans and cooling equipment and that equipment is incredibly noisy. People living in Bonner near a BitCoin Mine located on the site of an old sawmill likened the noise to a jet engine.
People living in Anaconda’s New Addition are at risk of having their lives disrupted by the constant noise from a BitCoin Mine in Dwyer School not to mention seeing their property values plummet.
When the BitCoin Mine was introduced to the Anaconda School Board, BitPower/Tabish indicated that the project would create 300 new jobs. That claim should be met with great skepticism.
I worked for Touch America, the telecommunications subsidiary of the Montana Power Company. I have been in data centers. There are hundreds of racks which stretch from the floor to the ceiling housing thousands of internet servers, there are miles and miles of wire, and little flashing lights everywhere. But the one thing you don’t see is people. There are very few jobs in these kinds of facilities. BitCoin mining is not a labor-intensive business. All the work is done by computers. A few techs are needed to keep the machines operational and a few programmers may be on staff principally to put protective patches on the software to keep the hackers at bay, but not many.
Last June there was a newspaper article about the Bonner BitCoin Mine. It said the facility was going to increase in size from 12,000 servers to 55,000 and add 65 jobs bringing the total up to 80 personnel. If you divide 55,000 servers by 80 employees, you get 687.5 servers per employee.
With an eight megawatt electrical load proposed for Dwyer School and considering the need for lighting and cooling equipment, it would probably be difficult to install more than 20,000 servers. So, divide 20,000 servers by 687.5 servers per employee and you get 29 jobs, which is less than 10% of what BitPower represented.
For those who believe that Anaconda is going to get 300 new jobs from BitCoin mining, re-reading the December 6th article in the Leader in instructive. The story said:
BitPower will “purchase W.K. Dwyer … for use as a training facility and corporate office for a workforce of 300.”
There is nothing in the article which says that the workforce would actually be in Anaconda. In an era where people telecommute to work, the workforce could be spread all over the country, sitting down at a computer terminal, and logging into hardware located in Anaconda.
On Tuesday, December 19th, the Anaconda School Board held a special meeting to accept public comment on the proposed Buy/Sell Agreement with Bit Power/Tabish. The meeting was a sham. The Board had its mind made up before it walked into the room. Witnesses were limited to two minutes of testimony. Only three testified. The contract was approved without consideration for the people living near Dwyer School. The meeting was over in less than 15 minutes.
The real tragedy of the Board’s decision is that it abandoned the people living on the west end of Anaconda. The Board had the power to put language into the contract which could have eliminated the threat of noise pollution from the Dwyer facility but, it did nothing.
Is BitCoin Mining is going to be a real “boon” to Anaconda? Not likely. Will it be a travesty? If the action of the Anaconda School Board last Tuesday is any indication, the answer is an unqualified YES.
-- John S. Fitzpatrick, of Georgetown Lake and Helena, is an Anaconda native. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Montana, and a master's degree and doctorate degree from Ohio State University. He worked on the team that did permitting for Colstrip Units 3 and 4, and the 500KV transmission line. He was deputy budget director for state of Montana under Gov. Tom Judge, and then established a consulting business. He has worked in the mining industry, and also permitted coal mines, metal mines, electric transmission lines and subdivisions. He was responsible for permitting the David Gates Generating Station at Mill Creek, near Anaconda; Beal Mountain Mine near Fairmont; and Montana Tunnels and Basin Creek in Jefferson County. He also has extensive experience with legislation.