A bitcoin mining company plans to build a new 50-megawatt data center in Polson, according to an announcement made Friday by Gov. Greg Gianforte and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Secretary Martin Charlo.
The data center will be fed by hydropower from the Salish-Kootenai Dam, (formerly Kerr Dam) that blocks the Flathead River at the southern end of Flathead Lake.
According to Energy Keepers, Inc., the CSKT-owned corporation that runs the dam, the structure has the capacity to generate 208 megawatts of electricity, meaning the new bitcoin mine will take up about a quarter of the station’s generating output.
The announcement was made at the Montana “On the Rise” Economic Summit hosted by Sen. Steve Daines and Bozeman.
“We’re excited to announce this new opportunity at Sen. Daines’ economic summit today which will benefit the nation and connect clean, baseload energy to next-gen computing, ”Charlo said in a statement.
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The data center will be built by Bitzero, according to the company’s CEO, Akbar Shamji, who was in Bozeman this week for the summit.
Bitzero made waves on Thursday when it announced that it would invest as much as $ 500 million in bitcoin mining operations in North Dakota. Bitcoin requires large amounts of power for the computer processing that creates the cryptocurrency.
There’s been mounting scrutiny over the huge amounts of power consumed globally by cryptocurrency data centers because of concerns that it’s leading to increased greenhouse gases. As a result, many companies are choosing renewable energy sources. But some researchers have pointed out that the depletion of renewable energy sources creates an economic incentive for the creation or continuation of coal-fired power plants.
Missoula County has had a fraught relationship with bitcoin mining companies. After one such company, Hyperblock, set up shop in a Bonner warehouse, concerns about noise and energy consumption led the county commissioners to adopt zoning regulations that regulate where such operations can exist. The county also adopted emergency “green” regulations that required bitcoin mining companies to purchase or build new sources of renewable energy to offset 100% of their energy demands. At one point, Hyperblock was using as much electricity as a third of all the homes in the county. That power also came from Salish-Kootenai Dam.
However, Missoula County commissioners said that energy use displaced other potential buyers of renewable energy who must then purchase greenhouse gas-emitting coal-fired power.
“That water wouldn’t just be spilling over the dam (if Hyperblock wasn’t buying it),” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said at the time. “There are buyers for the power, so it’s not as though this is renewable energy that is otherwise being wasted. Near as I can tell cryptocurrency is using exponentially more energy; it’s a grotesque amount of energy and we’ve got to take steps to address it. ”
Hyperblock ceased operations in Bonner in the spring of 2020.
One of the investors in the Bitzero, the company building the Polson data center, is Kevin O’Leary, a Canadian businessman who became famous on the television show “Shark Tank.”
“There is healthy competition developing amongst states to attract capital,” O’Leary said. Montana has all of that and more. For me as an investor, the state is a top-five destination for long-term capital investment. ”
Gianforte and Daines praised the announcement as well, saying the data center will create good-paying jobs.
“Montana is open for business to the world, and we’re thrilled by this investment in Montana,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Our continued focus on cutting taxes, rolling back red tape, and attracting and training workers in critical industries is key. to fueling future job creation, growth and prosperity. ”
Daines hosted the summit with the Montana Chamber of Commerce.
“This new investment in the CSKT will support good-paying jobs in Montana, boost Montana’s economy and keep Montana at the forefront of the energy and technology sector,” Daines said. “I’m glad to announce this lucrative project. I look forward to the new and exciting opportunities this will bring to Montana.”