On April 4, we voted unanimously to adopt interim zoning regulations for cryptocurrency mining in Missoula County. This complex topic is worth understanding, since these regulations are critical to our efforts to address the climate crisis and protect public health and safety in our county. Here’s what’s important to understand about the new regulations.
- They’re not a moratorium. The new regulations are not a moratorium on cryptocurrency mining. They don’t affect existing cryptocurrency mines at all. They also don’t prevent existing operations from expanding, nor do they prevent new operations from starting up. What they do is establish conditions that new or expanded cryptocurrency mines must meet to ensure that they don’t generate excessive noise, that their electronic waste is handled appropriately, and that they develop or purchase new renewable energy.
- Cryptocurrency mines are tremendous energy hogs. One large cryptocurrency mine in Missoula County uses about as much electricity as one-third of the households in the county. If the owners triple the size of the facility as planned, it will use as much electricity as all county households combined. This tremendous energy use runs counter to our obligation to address climate change.
- Climate change is an emergency. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that a significant reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions is necessary in the next decade to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. In Missoula County, that means more frequent and intense wildfires and flooding, with far-reaching impacts on public health and safety, our ecosystems and our local economy. Given the failure of state and federal leaders to address this crisis, we have an obligation to act locally. Just last week, we joined the City of Missoula to adopt a goal of 100 percent clean electricity for the Missoula urban area by 2030. The new cryptocurrency mining regulations ensure that new or expanded cryptocurrency mines don’t jeopardize our ability to address climate change locally.
- New renewable energy is critical. The regulations require new or expanded cryptocurrency mines to use “new” renewable energy sources.This is critical. When a new large energy user makes use of an existing renewable energy resource, whoever was previously using that power must shift to another energy resource, likely coal or natural gas. The only way to avoid an increase in greenhouse gas emissions is for the new user to develop or buy into a new renewable energy resource instead.
- They don’t target one company. Because HyperBlock is currently the only large cryptocurrency mine in the county, some believe the regulations are aimed solely at that business. That’s just not true. The excessive noise created by HyperBlock’s fans initially caused problems for Bonner residents, and we are grateful to HyperBlock and Bonner Property Development for addressing the issue by replacing fan blades last year. The problem is, the county had no authority to enforce noise limits, and there’s no guarantee that a new cryptocurrency mine will prove to be as good a neighbor as HyperBlock. The new regulations allow us to avoid a repeat of that situation elsewhere in the county.
- Interim zoning is temporary.The new regulations will be in effect for one year to give the county time to develop a long-term solution.
None of us could have anticipated the emergence of cryptocurrency mining in our county. As we’ve learned more about this industry, we’ve considered several options to address its impacts. With these regulations, we’ve found a way to accommodate the growth of cryptocurrency mining without sacrificing community values or undermining our efforts to address climate change.
Nicole Rowley, Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick are the Missoula County commissioners.