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‘Miners’ suck up the energy

‘Miners’ suck up the energy

Down to Business

Kristin Swinton isn’t too worried that a cryptocurrency “miner” will set up shop in Green Island and suck up all of its cheap electric power.

The municipal system is too small to meet the huge power needs of such a high-density load customer without significant infrastructure upgrades that the miner would have to pay for, said Swinton, CEO of the Green Island Power Authority.

GIPA, as it is known, and various predecessors have been providing low-cost power to the Albany County village since the late 1890s; GIPA itself was authorized in 1986.

The power is cheap because GIPA is mostly supplied by the New York Power Authority, whose giant hydroelectric projects provide low-cost power across upstate.

It’s that cheap power that caught the eye of companies operating server farms that run complex software programs to create, or “mine,” digital currency, such as Bitcoin, consuming a lot of electricity in the process. Their energy needs began to wreak havoc in northern New York, where municipal power systems were having to buy more expensive supplemental power on the open market after exhausting their Power Authority hydro allocation, pushing everyone’s electric bills higher.

In January, for instance, the energy costs for the city of Plattsburgh’s municipal system rose by more than $200,000, driven by the power demands of two cryptocurrency companies. Residential customers saw their bills rise an average of 6 percent that month.

Soon after, the New York Municipal Power Agency, a group representing 36 municipal electric utilities, petitioned the state Public Service Commission for a special tariff to be paid by those high-density load customers, which would cover the supplemental energy costs while protecting incumbent customers from bill spikes.

The tariff establishes energy-usage parameters to distinguish high-density load customers from big commercial and industrial users like shopping centers, factories and packing facilities, which would not be subject to the added charge, according to PSC documents.

The tariff also would not apply to companies qualifying for Power Authority hydropower allocations under an economic development program tied to the number of jobs they create.

Few jobs are created by cryptocurrency operations, since computers are doing the bulk of the work.
The PSC approved the special tariff on an emergency basis in March and made it permanent last month. GIPA, although not a member of the municipal utilities group, supported the tariff and agreed to abide by it, according to PSC documents. CEO Swinton, who said GIPA has had no requests for power from cryptocurrency miners, viewed the support as being proactive.

She said the utility’s customer base is about evenly divided between commercial and residential customers, many of the former clustered in the northern section of the village.
Names on buildings there include Sealy Mattress, Silhouette Optical, Ecovative Design, Arcadia Manufacturing and Crystal IS.

None demands power like a cryptocurrency miner, Swinton said.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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