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County council grills proponents on crypto-law

Resident has “no faith” noise can be controlled
2022 Feb 22 county agenda
BITCOIN MINES — This slide from a November 2021 presentation by MAGA Energy to Sturgeon County council depicts a typical Bitcoin (BTC) mining facility. County council held a public hearing Feb. 22 on rules to regulate such mines. MAGA ENERGY/Photo

A Greystone Manor resident says a loophole in Sturgeon County’s proposed cryptocurrency mine law could bring unacceptable noise to the homes of county residents.

County council held a public hearing on its proposed data processing facility regulations Feb. 22.

Administration tabled the draft rules in late January after Calgary’s MAGA Energy approached the county with a proposal to use up to 60 natural gas wells to power computers which would mine cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are currencies secured through cryptography. People can earn or “mine” cryptocurrencies by having computers complete complex calculations.

The draft rules, if approved, would make data processing facilities (computer sites which process data which could be related to cryptocurrencies) a discretionary use on agricultural, resource extraction, rural industry support, local industrial district, medium industrial (serviced and not), heavy industrial, industrial reserve, and public utility lands.

Martyn Bell, the county’s program lead for current planning, told council that each of MAGA’s proposed sites would use about 10 MW of power, create four jobs, and pay about $20,000 in taxes to the county a year.

Noise complaints

Bell said an unauthorized data processing facility run on a MAGA-owned site by Link Global west of Greystone Manor created “unacceptable levels of noise” in the region while in operation. Such facilities could also have aesthetic impacts, as they are often based around shipping containers with little landscaping.

The draft rules would require any such facility to be housed in buildings which are visually compatible with their surroundings. Development officers could also require additional landscaping such as trees and noise impact, monitoring, and mitigation plans. Facilities with power plants would not be allowed within 1,500 metres of any home unless a development officer found they had a sufficient noise mitigation plan.

That’s a loophole that must be closed, said Greystone Manor Residents Association president Jeff Kocuipchuk, who lives about 700 metres from the aforementioned Link Global mine.

“People move here [to the county] to enjoy the quiet,” he said, and these facilities generate a droning, sleep-robbing sound of 40 to 70 dB all day, every day.

“It sounded like several Boeing 737s sitting in the distance idling,” he said of the Link Global mine.

Unless these sites are inside enclosed buildings, Kocuipchuk said he had “no faith” that the noise from them could be effectively muffled. Link Global made multiple unsuccessful attempts to do so with noise mitigation plans which were often missing, incomplete, or inaccurate.

“Quite frankly, I do not believe MAGA’s operations will be any different,” he said.

Kocuipchuk called on council to require data processing facilities to be set back 1,500 metres from any home without exception.

Corporate questions

Council questioned MAGA Energy spokespersons about the noise and environmental impacts of their mines.

MAGA Energy chairperson David Tian told council his group plans to build up to 10 crytpo-mining operations on its Sturgeon County wells should these new rules pass. He ruled out the company’s Big Lake well due to flood concerns and all-but ruled out the Greystone Manor well due to concerns from residents.

Tian said his team hopes to reinject some of the CO2 produced by these mines into their wells to get more natural gas out of them. Some of that produced CO2 would also be used to grow food in a greenhouse they hope to have operational a year after mining commences.

Colbert Law of MAGA Energy said cryptocurrency mines would not be viable if the county restricts their hours of operation.

“The main revenue source for these cryptocurrency mines is to actually mine,” he said.

“If they are going to be shut down from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next day, they’re going to be exploring other options.”

The draft rules will return to council for consideration in March.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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