A company called Power Block Coin, LLC, plans to invest $251 million in capital improvements over 36 months in Montana Connections, a special tax district west of Butte.
Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners voted unanimously, 9-0, Wednesday night to allow Utah-based Power Block Coin, LLC, to develop a campus of high-powered data centers in Montana Connections, a special tax finance district west of Butte.
The company’s goal is to bring 135 megawatts of power to its campus. Part of the proposal to the county is that the company will build a substation at Montana Connections to enable that much electricity. The $251 million will include about $8 million to $10 million in new electric infrastructure including a new substation that would be completed over two phases in 24 months.
The company also plans to put $60 million into 70 to 200 separate units that would use large amounts of power, which would be transmitted through the new substation. Those units could be anything from larger warehouse buildings to small shipping containers.
The project is expected to employ about 50 people once it is fully up and running, according to the company’s proposal to the county. Aaron Tilton, president and chief executive officer of Blue Castle Holdings, Inc., told The Montana Standard Wednesday that the positions wouldn’t start all at once. He estimated they would hire about 15 employees by the end of the year.
The salaries are estimated to range from $37,000 per year to $48,000 per year. Power Block Coin is a subsidiary of Utah-based Blue Castle Holdings.
Tilton said the company hopes to break ground this summer. After that, they expect to have the first data center up and running within 30 to 60 days, Tilton said. By the end of the year, Power Block Coin anticipates to have 30 megawatts of power at its campus.
The campus will convert electricity into digital currency mining, including bitcoin. In addition to that, Tilton said the company could support other businesses that need large amounts of power, such as certain types of medical research and artificial intelligence.
“Bitcoin is the fastest growing segment of cryptocurrency. If it tanks, the same processors can be used for medical research or AI (artificial intelligence),” Tilton said.
The county’s TIFID administrator Kristen Rosa said the county will reimburse Power Block Coin for that infrastructure through the taxes the company generates at Montana Connections but it would only be based on what the company itself invests.
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“Power Block Coin has to invest their money, build a substation, they’ll be a big power user,” Rosa said. “It’s not just a bitcoin facility. We’re not buying into bitcoin. They’re an aggregator, a campus to allow additional users to come in and use power.”
The project had at least one critic. Brian Landblom, a former software engineer for Flagship Biosciences, told commissioners at the beginning of the meeting he hoped they would vote against Power Block Coin’s proposal.
He expressed concern that the company would not survive for very long. He also took issue with the salaries the company plans to offer and worried that the county would be left holding the bag with a lot of infrastructure in Montana Connections that would then become unused.
Rosa said the infrastructure the company needs already exists at Montana Connections except for the substation.
As to the concern that the company might not be there in 10 years, Rosa said “we take that risk with any business.”
Commissioner Cindy Perdue-Dolan asked about the potential for a noise problem. Noise has recently gained attention in Bonner, where a bitcoin operation has been in place for nearly a year.
Rosa said Power Block Coin will use better technology to prevent the noise issues Bonner faces. She also pointed out Montana Connections is an industrial park and there are no homes directly across the street.
Perdue-Dolan asked about what would happen to the operation if there is a spike in energy costs.
Tilton said that part of the answer to that is the reason the company finds Montana attractive.
“One reason we’re here — the consumption is stable and that lowers the mitigation to risk,” he said.