Bitcoin mining company Marathon has angered environmentalists by reviving a dying coal-fired power station.

The Hardin generating station in Montana, US, was due to close in 2018. Yet somehow it managed to remain in use for 46 days in 2020.

Then a deal was struck later that year leading to Marathon becoming the sole customer of the plant. 

The company established a data center next to the power station and packed it with 30,000 Antminer S19 mining rigs.

As the miners came online, so did Hardin. In the first nine months of 2021, the generating station’s boilers were fired up on 236 separate days, adding 187,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s more than 5,000% more than in the same period in 2020.

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

“They were struggling and looking to close. It was on the brink. And then this cryptocurrency company came along,” she told The Guardian.

Old fossil fuel power stations are being reopened

Hardin is one of a new wave of fossil fuel plants being resurrected to help satisfy the increased demand for power.

In 2020, Greenidge Generation was converted to run on gas and power in a move the company said would “bring a piece of the world’s digital future” to the state.

And they are not isolated cases.

In western Pennsylvania, thousands of bitcoin mining computers have been packed in shipping containers alongside the Scrubgrass plant, which burns waste coal and was set to close until miners moved in.

And in Kentucky, mining firm Blockware is partway through a two-year investment plan to buy 8,000 new rigs. 

“Kentucky is the largest coal-producing state in the country,” said founder and CEO Michael Stoltzner. 

“That’s the resource they have. It’s a tough argument, and people in Kentucky feel different about that argument than people in California.”

He added that the company chose to source power from Big Rivers Electric because it used a mix of renewable and non-renewable sources, including hydroelectric, wind, and coal.

The crackdowns last year by China led to an exodus of miners, with the US taking up much of the capacity.

New York state and Texas combined account for 37% of the hash rate in the US.

By one estimate from the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance, annual global bitcoin mining accounts for more electricity than the entire nation of The Netherlands.

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