Ross: The troubling downside behind megawatts of crypto-power

Oct 18, 2021, 6:42 AM | Updated: Oct 19, 2021, 11:31 am
Crypto power plant...
The Greenridge Generation power plant on the banks of Seneca Lake in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

In the lovely Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, a mothballed power plant on the shores of Seneca Lake has now been fired up again, not because the population of upstate New York is growing (which it isn’t). In fact, New York is losing population faster than any other state.

No, the plant is being restarted because of demand from Bitcoin miners.


Mining Bitcoin is like panning for gold, but instead of sparkly nuggets, you dig for strings of numbers with very special characteristics.

For Bitcoin to work, the data representing all previous Bitcoin transactions has to be hashed, a mysterious process which no normal person understands, but which ensures that Bitcoin can never be counterfeited. The process is designed to be difficult; even a souped-up computer could spend five years mining a single Bitcoin. Which is why miners often work in groups and split the reward.

The reward is typically modest – around $5,700 a month – but there are a lot of miners, and their hashing uses a lot of electricity.

In the case of that upstate New York powerplant, according to the Associated Press, 15,300 servers will use 44 megawatts. That’s enough to power every home in Olympia and Tumwater.

This mining is how Bitcoin transactions are checked for accuracy, which means it has to go on forever.

In addition to the New York plant, which uses natural gas, there are power plants in Pennsylvania and Montana, fueled by coal products, which will be doing the same thing.

Those plants will create local jobs, it’s true, but they’ll do it by pumping CO2 into the air to create more of the currency preferred by probably nine out of 10 ransomware criminals.

I suppose we can be thankful for one thing: At least the crooks are unlikely to target the power grid — they need it too much.

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Ross: The troubling downside behind megawatts of crypto-power