China’s cryptocurrency mining giant Bitmain has cleared a hurdle in its bid to establish a mining facility in the state of Washington.
According to a Union Bulletin report, the three commissioners of the Port of Walla Walla have agreed—despite public objection to the idea—to go on with the “land lease and purchase option for 10 acres between the Dodd Road Industrial Park and Wallula Gap Business Park.” The option to buy an additional 30 acres has been taken out from the agreement—for now, at least.
Ant Creek, the name of Bitmain’s data facility in Port Walla Walla, will pay approximately $4,700 monthly in rent.
Director of Operations Jeff Stearns described Ant Creek as “both a blockchain and artificial-intelligence company,” with two different chief executives. Stearns also echoed Bitmain co-founder Jihan Wu’s description of Ant Creek as the “largest manufacturer of cryptocurrency mining equipment in the world.”
Union Bulletin, however, reported that Walla Walla residents didn’t buy the description of the subsidiary company, claiming the focus on blockchain technology rather than cryptocurrency mining was just a way of softening the facts with more neutral language. One of the residents called it “misdirection.”
The residents were concerned about the amount of energy the company would extract from the community, which has the cheapest electricity rates in North America.
Walla Walla resident Robb Lincoln pointed out that unlike other developments, which employ more people and add value to existing industries, Ant Creek will only “extract electricity and create wealth for the owner with no trickle down.” Another resident Peder Fretheim, told the commissioners the project will only be “used for two things: transactions you want to hide from the law and speculation.” The hearing became intense during the public comment period, and one resident was escorted out.
Though crypto mining companies have been quick to flock to regions with energy surpluses and inexpensive rates, they have been met with resistance from the local residents. States like Washington have announced a moratorium on new crypto mining operations while they evaluate their effects on the community’s power grid.
Peter Swant, president of the commission, said the decision was difficult as the project would not only meet the Port of Walla Walla’s mission of job and tax creation but also provide infrastructure. He also said that he was elected to do what the people would like, and representing the wants of 60 or 70 people that had attended the meeting out of a community of 60,000 residents was going to be difficult.