Chad Harris, CEO of Whinstone Inc., the operator of North America’s largest crypto “mine,” recalls one of the last times Texas’ electric power crisis became his electric power crisis. It was a Wednesday in June, and the temperature in the evening had risen to roughly 94 degrees, much over the average for the month.
At that time of year, the state normally suffers. Texans’ air conditioners were spinning, as was the state’s power grid. It was straining when it notoriously failed for days during a cold spell in February. “We just received an SMS that said, ‘The power grid requires assistance.’ Please stop right now,’ Harris urged as he stood outside the company’s mining center, which is located six miles outside of this Central Texas town at an old Alcoa aluminum plant.
Whinstone’s system fell down in an instant. The tens of thousands of computer systems that had been spinning away, generating bitcoin, had abruptly stopped. “We turned this off with the flip of a switch,” Harris explained.
In the crypto mining sector, having all of your machines shut down at the same time and for hours, as they did in June, seems like a calamity. Crypto miners compete with one another all over the world to generate the computer code that results in the production of a single bitcoin, and the algorithm that governs bitcoin’s production allows only 6.25 bitcoin to be produced every 10 minutes among the estimated 70,000 crypto mines in operation.
Despite the fact that Texas power companies deal with huge electricity users like Whinstone, Harris’ bitcoin mine, one of the few held by a publicly traded firm, remained unaffected. Instead, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s electrical operator, began paying Whinstone — for agreeing to stop buying power amid increased demand.
Despite its ongoing power issues, this type of arrangement has helped the state become one of the go-to sites for expanding crypto businesses around the world. Whinstone’s new owners are planning a massive expansion of the company’s facilities west of Rockdale, with the goal of doubling capacity.
The crypto mine here is estimated to require 750 megawatts of power when completely constructed, which is enough to power more than 150,000 Texas households during peak demand.
Depending on whatever viewpoint you take, the boom is both a source of concern and an opportunity. “One positive aspect of crypto mining is that it adds flexibility to the system,” said Peter Cramton, a former board member of ERCOT, the nonprofit that oversees the state’s wholesale electricity market. “However, the issue is that it consumes real resources while performing a useless function”.
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