At a time when supplies of power and water are extremely tight, controversy is brewing in Corsicana over a new facility that would use enormous quantities of both.
The world’s largest Bitcoin mining operation is planned by a company called Riot Blockchain on a 265-acre site, 7 miles outside Corsicana in Navarro County.
Bitcoin is mined in buildings with enormous computing power running complicated mathematical formulas around the clock.
Some experts believe bitcoin will become a dominant global currency in the future.
The Navarro County site is ideally located adjacent to a power grid switch, offering a access to electric supply.
It will be much larger than the company’s existing operation in Rockdale, Texas.
The company says the Corsicana community will benefit with a $333 million investment in the site and hundreds of new workers.
“Our facility creates jobs that are high paying, 401k, health insurance and all the bells and whistles a public company offers its employees,” Riot Blockchain Vice-President Chad Harris said. “Riot Blockchain is a good corporate citizen that invests in its community, invests in its people.”
Officials with the City of Corsicana have said they can provide the large amount of water the company will need to cool those computers.
A group called Concerned Citizens of Navarro County has a list of doubts about the plans.
Jackie Sawicky with the group said the top concern is the possibility of higher electric rates for people already living there.
“The immediate public response was overwhelmingly negative,” she said. “We can’t keep the lights on as it is. To put something like this to burden our grid is going to be catastrophic.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted support for Bitcoin mining in February.
“The Lone Star State is poised to be a world leader in blockchain & cryptocurrency,” Abbott said.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) which helps manage the grid added some new regulations this year for bitcoin mining operations that seek to join.
But consultant Doug Lewin with Stoic Energy said Texas needs additional regulation that does not yet exist for very large additions like Riot Blockchain plans.
“It is rational to have concern about this,” Lewin said.
At maximum planned usage, Lewin estimated the Corsicana operation alone could draw about half the equivalent usage as the entire City of Austin. He said the sum of all proposed bitcoin mining in Texas could equal the DFW area power demand.
“If we go along the way we have with no effective regulation, the potential for problems on our grid are quite high. But the inverse is true. With some sensible regulation I think it is entirely possible that Bitcoin could increase reliability and lower costs,” he said.
Lewin suggests Bitcoin could be encouraged to arrange new dedicated wind and solar power sources, which could also help reduce emissions.
Those sources would then be available to shift to the grid during times of high power demand.
Harris said Riot Blockchain already shuts down when demand is high. He claims the large users may reduce rates for existing customers.
“Because we use power 24 hours a day, we actually suppress pricing because generators are actually operating more efficiently because they know they have a user that can use it,” Harris said.
Sawicky said support for the bitcoin opposition group is growing.
“At first I was on the fence about it, pretty ambivalent. And the more I learned as an environmentalist, the more horrified I became. And then to learn this was going to be in our county, I was enraged immediately,” she said.
Riot Blockchain plans to have the Corsicana operation up and running in 2023. It would be located in an unincorporated area where Navarro County has no zoning regulations to stop it.