In addition to his plans to turn Anaconda's slag into proppant, pig iron, and jobs, Missoula-based entrepreneur Rick Tabish is also working on a second area project with an uncertain future: CryptoWatt LLC.
Based in Butte, CryptoWatt bought the former MSE Technology campus south of the Mining City earlier this year for an undisclosed sum to operate a bitcoin mining operation.
But what is happening at the site — and what's in store for the company's future now that the price of bitcoin has dropped to $3,211 per bitcoin from a peak of nearly $20,000 — is an open question.
And attempts to reach the current leadership of the company for answers were unsuccessful.
Dan Burrell, who started the company in late 2017, appears to have cashed out.
Burrell, a New Mexico- and Denver-based multimillionaire, previously said he invested more than $100 million into the company. That included the cost of an upgrade to the campus’s substation to provide 62 megawatts of power.
Butch Larcombe, NorthWestern Energy spokesperson, said CryptoWatt completed its substation upgrade, but the company’s plans were mightier than that. Last spring, company officials said CryptoWatt would eventually be able to transmit 124 megawatts of power.
Bitcoin mining requires significant power usage. Large groups of servers run constantly to decipher computational puzzles in a 24-7 race to win bitcoin, a type of virtual currency that the owner never holds in her or his hand.
In addition, the company said it would hire about 50 employees. And that was supposed to be a conservative number, according to Matt Vincent, a former company spokesperson. At last count, in June, the company had around 20 full-time regular workers.
The company undertook a major overhaul, complete with teens painting murals on interior walls, to transform the old MSE buildings into a server farm to make millions from the volatile currency.
The fanfare and frenzied activity to build was spurred by the surge in price of bitcoin, which peaked in 2017.
But now it's not even clear who is leading the company.
Burrell did not respond to an email inquiry. Vincent, former county chief executive, declined to comment on why he recently left the company or on Burrell’s status with CryptoWatt.
As for Tabish, he said he is now CryptoWatt’s "janitor."
He and his cousin, Dan Tabish, laughed when he said it.
Tabish also declined to comment on whether Burrell left the company. Asked to refer The Montana Standard to new owners, he called the current leadership of CryptoWatt "not press people" and said they are "interested in making money and are first class."
Tabish said he provides support to CryptoWatt but insisted he is just the company's janitor.
When Burrell was heading the company, he appeared to distance himself — and CryptoWatt — from Tabish.
He said earlier this year that Tabish’s only role with CryptoWatt was as a general contractor through his company, FX Solutions, to help with construction at the site.
But Tabish appeared to represent CryptoWatt’s interests when the company presented its original plans to build a server farm in Anaconda, where he claimed the company would create 300 jobs. Those plans never came to fruition, and CryptoWatt shifted to Butte.
Burrell said earlier this year that in order for CryptoWatt to stay profitable, the floor for bitcoin needed to remain above $8,000. As the price went into a decline earlier this year and dipped below that figure, he said the company had the capacity to shift direction with the banks of servers already in place to provide artificial intelligence, to operate as a traditional data center, or to find other revenue streams. He said last June that CryptoWatt had plenty of capital to stay afloat for the long haul.
CryptoWatt officials said they found Montana an attractive location for bitcoin mining in late 2017 because of cheap power and cold temperatures. The servers run hot and must be constantly kept cool.
But the price of electricity has recently gone up, which could be another blow to the bitcoin industry.
Talen Energy, which supplies power to other large-scale industrial users in the state, declined to say if CryptoWatt has a contract.