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Sturgeon considers laws for cryptocurrency mines

Would regulate “Wild West” industry, says Hnatiw

New rules now before Sturgeon County council would regulate cryptocurrency mines such as the illegal one that raised a ruckus last year near Greystone Manor.

County council passed first reading of its new data processing facility regulations Jan. 25.

The rules, if passed, would make data processing facilities (computer sites that process data which could be related to digital currencies) 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.

Cryptocurrency mines

Martyn Bell, the county’s program lead for current planning, said administration had proposed this change on behalf of MAGA Energy, a Calgary-based company that owns gas wells in the county.

Bell said MAGA Energy hopes to use gas from about 60 inactive wells in Sturgeon to mine cryptocurrencies — digital currencies such as Bitcoin that often use power-intensive computer calculations to be processed. While few places accept cryptocurrencies for payment, they can be exchanged for traditional monies.

“Imagine a digital version of cashing in casino chips,” Bell said of cryptocurrencies.

MAGA Energy has said each site would require 10 MW of power and create four jobs, Bell said. He estimated that one site would generate about $20,000 in taxes a year for the county. The company has discussed using waste heat and CO2 from on-site generators in greenhouses but has not committed to doing so.

CBC Edmonton reported that Vancouver-based Link Global set up a cryptocurrency mine on one of MAGA’s sites in Greystone Manor in 2020 without permission from the county or provincial regulators. Area residents complained about the noise, which led the Alberta Utilities Commission to shut the site down. The AUC has moved to fine the company about $7.1 million in relation to this incident.

Bell noted that cryptocurrency mines can have visual impacts, as their equipment is often housed in shipping containers. The Greystone Manor operation also produced “unacceptable levels of noise.”

To address these issues, the proposed law would require data processing facilities (which could include server farms) to be in buildings that are visually compatible with the region. Development officers could also order additional landscaping (such as berms or trees) and require noise impact, monitoring, and mitigation plans. Sites with power plants would not be allowed within 1,500 metres from existing homes without sufficient noise-reduction plans.

Permits for facilities on agricultural, public utility, resource extraction, industrial reserve, and rural industry support lands would last up to five years, and for any amount of time on other lands. Bell said he suspects most of these operations will be in agricultural zones.

Council heard that these facilities would also be subject to regulation by the Alberta Energy Regulator and the AUC. These facilities would not require public hearings.

Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said this law is about setting expectations for the “wild west” of cryptocurrency mines and should not be seen as an endorsement of them.

Coun. Kristin Toms voiced concern about the potential greenhouse-gas emissions from these sites, which often run 24/7. While she did not endorse cryptocurrency mining, she welcomed this law as a way to start a conversation about it.

The bylaw will go before a public hearing this February.

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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