‘Struggling’ coal plant emits 500% more carbon after Bitcoin mining revival

A 115-megawatt coal plant in Montana was practically earmarked for destruction until a Bitcoin mining company needed its "stranded energy."

In the US, Bitcoin has resurrected a coal-fired power plant in Montana to power 30,000 mining rigs, reports the Guardian.

The 115 megawatt (MW) Harding plant is situated near the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. It was headed for closure in 2020 after only working 46 days in the year.

“We were just waiting for this thing to die,” said Anne Hedges, co-director of the Montana Environmental Information Center (via the Guardian).

“They were struggling and looking to close, it was on the brink. And then this cryptocurrency company came along.”

Hedges is referring to Marathon Digital Holdings, a NASDAQ-listed Bitcoin mining firm headquartered in Las Vegas.

Marathon leveraged power generated by the coal plant for mining Bitcoin on 236 days last year. In 2021’s first quarter, the facility reportedly expelled more than 180,000 tons of carbon dioxide, a 500% increase from 2020.

“This isn’t helping old ladies from freezing to death, it’s to enrich a few people while destroying our climate for all of us. If you’re concerned about climate change you should have nothing to do with cryptocurrency, it’s a disaster for the climate,” added Hedges.

While Marathon’s efforts are spread across multiple sites, the company reported mining around 3,197 BTC ($125.2 million) last year, up 846% from the 338 BTC ($13.2 million) generated in 2020.

Bitcoin mining can’t escape coal (yet)

Bitcoin and cryptocurrency miners have flocked to the US following the Chinese government’s embargo on all things crypto last year.

Bitcoin mining has inspired the revival of several ailing coal power plants across the US, including Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

However, some American communities are wary of situations like the one inspired by Marathon in Montana. Concerns raised range from pollution and ecological damage to noise.

“I understand the desire for some people to [paint] Bitcoin mining as the big bad boy, but on a comparison with every other industry out there, it’s insignificant,” said Marathon chief exec Fred Thiel (via the Guardian).

Thiel explained that “very few people” in the energy sector were prepared to do business with Bitcoin miners. This meant they were forced to look for so-called “stranded assets” like the almost-written-off coal plant in Montana.

“And so the only way for us to mine was to find stranded energy, which we did in finding the Hardin plant.”

Marathon Digital Holdings chief Fred Thiel opined on the future of Bitcoin mining at a recent event in Switzerland.

Read more: [Intel hopes new Bitcoin mining chip will reduce its environmental impact]

In any case, Bitcoin mining has recently strained some parts of the world’s power supply. Particularly in Europe and Eurasia, several countries have either banned or limited mining in a bid to preserve their grids.

Bitcoin proponents hope that stress is transitory while surging demand inspires greener and more efficient alternatives.

Although, it looks like some parts of the US are stuck with Bitcoin mining reviving old coal plants — at least for now.

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