The arrival of cryptocurrency miners in The Dalles offers a strange opportunity for the state—and a big environmental threat. Terrence Thurber says he plans to double his cryptocurrency mine’s electricity use within the next year, to draw 6 megawatts every hour. Deep in the Columbia River Gorge is a parking lot that never freezes. The source of this artificial summer in The Dalles, a town of 13,000 people 85 miles east of Portland where February temperatures can dip to 16 degrees, is a nearby warehouse, a cream and green concrete building with no windows and no signs. The reason for this banana belt? Air pumped from exhaust vents in the warehouse bathe the parking lot with a warm sauna-like breeze—heat coming from the 2,750 computers that hum inside. Two thousand, seven hundred fifty computers, each the size of a shoe box.
This is Terrence Thurber’s cryptocurrency mine. Thurber, a boyish, 33-year-old college dropout with a pompadour of blond hair, a perpetual five o’ clock shadow and a gambling habit that sent him jetting off to Vegas this week, moved to The Dalles from Costa Rica three years ago. He once hawked diet pills online. Now, he is mining for Bitcoins.
This is the future,” Thurber says. The sooner people get on board, the better off they’ll be. It’s a ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’ situation. Columbia River hydropower has drawn the eye of cryptocurrency miners. A dozen of them are seeking to open industrial-sized mines in The Dalles, Ore. Cryptocurrency is the talk of the tech and financial world.
The most popular cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, has made paper billionaires of some, as speculators drive the value of each coin up and down. But mostly up—Bitcoin increased in value more than 1,100 percent last year. 168 billion in Bitcoins around the globe, and it’s just one of hundreds of cryptocurrencies. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says the speculative frenzy is a sham, and warns that eventually the cryptocurrency craze will be viewed as another tulip fever, when irrational enthusiasm for flower bulbs crashed the 17th-century Dutch economy. But for the moment, miners like Thurber are gripped in a mania, using thousands of shoebox-sized computers to solve the complex math problems that produce cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
Thurber says he moved to The Dalles for one reason only: cheap hydroelectric power. It costs 3 to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, less than half the U. Thurber’s mine constantly draws three megawatts of power per hour. That’s enough electricity to power a town the size of Sisters.
It’s not as if we have a huge amount of employment attached. The Bitcoin boom poses a challenge to small towns like The Dalles. Electricity here may be cheap, but it isn’t endless. And the more hydropower is used by Bitcoin miners, the more the rest of the state must rely on electricity generated by fossil fuels, including coal. I wouldn’t blame a for being skeptical,” Thurber says. Cryptocurrency would gobble up as much power as it could, if we didn’t have a bunch of measures in place that are holding us back.