Plattsburgh officials weigh in on bitcoin mining moratorium bill

Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 5:14 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - New York could soon become the first state to put a moratorium on bitcoin mining, looking to curb the energy intensive’s impacts on the climate. The bill awaiting the governor’s signature essentially follows in the footsteps of a 2018 measure in Plattsburgh, which became the first U.S. city to halt the activity until regulators caught up with the new technology.

Bitcoin, a form of electronic currency, has a growing community behind it. But the computer servers required to manage it use a lot of electricity and companies are increasingly looking for rural areas like Plattsburgh with relatively cheap power.

“Plattsburgh became one of the biggest locations for bitcoin mining in the entire world,” said Colin Read, an economist and former mayor of Plattsburgh. He started researching the currency back in 2018 to see its impact on the community.

Those measures included noise ordnance for mining facilities and a cap on electricity to protect ratepayers. With the new regulations in place, Plattsburgh lifted its moratorium and cryptocurrency companies like Coinmint are operating in the city today. Read has continued his research after leaving the mayor’s office, writing a book on the topic, and advising state officials.

The state’s concern is the high number of mining facilities that have begun operating in New York since last fall after China shut down all bitcoin mining. Many of those businesses have now found their way to New York. “That’s now forced us to augment and add additional power, primarily in the form of natural gas,” Read said.

New York has a climate goal of carbon-free electricity by 2040 and a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. But the electricity demand from these mining servers could keep natural gas plants open, knocking the state off track of its climate goals. That’s why lawmakers passed a moratorium on new bitcoin mining. “They are not banning bitcoin at all, they are banning bitcoin that will have this very significant climate impact,” Read said.

Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest says bitcoin mining is still happening but it causes no harm to the environment because the city uses hydropower not a carbon-based fuel. He says the operations don’t give back to the city in the sense of jobs or tax incentives but do allow the use of just about all of the city’s electricity. “Which is what we want to do. We just don’t want to always have to go over and purchase power on the open market,” he said.

The New York bill awaiting the governor’s signature would place a two-year moratorium on the activity until the state sets up its own regulations.

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