When Winter Storm Uri froze power plants across Texas in February of 2021, approximately 700 people died, and millions more paid outrageous prices for power, despite the outages. Part of those sky-high power bills went to Bitcoin company Bitdeer, which over the course of five days, made over $18 million from the state- to not operate.
Bitdeer’s business of running computers constantly to create imaginary digital currency consumes about 6,500 homes worth of electricity, and it was paid $175,000 an hour to keep those wasteful CPUs offline so that power could be used to keep people warm and alive. A New York Times investigation revealed 34 such bitcoin mining operations in the US, like one in Kearney, Nebraska that uses “about as much electricity as the 73,000 homes around” it or one in Dalton, Georgia that sucks up “nearly as much power as the surrounding 97,000 households.”
The biggest? Texas, of course. Riot Platforms’ facility in Rockdale “uses about the same amount of electricity as the nearest 300,000 homes.” Combined with the Bitdeer facility less than a mile away, the pair “use more power than all of the households within a 40-mile radius.” That additional demand has raised costs for consumers by $1.8 billion, and in total, it’s like adding 3.5 million gas cars worth of emissions.
‘Propping up our fossil fuel industry’
The bitcoin facilities identified by the Times use “nearly the same amount of electricity as the three million households that surround them… as if another New York City’s worth of residences were now drawing on the nation’s power supply.” An analysis calculated that these mines are adding 16.4 million tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere every year. While supporters like to claim bitcoin can run on renewables, 85% of the demand is being met by coal and methane gas plants. “They are propping up our fossil fuel industry,” North Dakota Commissioner of Commerce said, “and that’s exactly what we want.” (New York Times $)
Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested the death toll of Winter Storm Uri was far lower than it actually was. Approximately 700 people died because of the storm and the infrastructure failures that resulted.