Town Puts 90-Day Ban on New Bitcoin Mines Because They're 'Unsightly'

The town of Massena, New York, has put a 90-day moratorium on new Bitcoin mines sucking up cheap power in “unsightly old trailers and sea boxes."
August 6, 2021, 1:00pm
Town Puts 90-Day Ban on New Bitcoin Mines Because They're 'Unsightly'
Image: Bloomberg / Contributor via Getty Images

A small New York town near the Canadian border has placed a 90-day moratorium on Bitcoin mining due to aesthetic reasons.

The Massena town board on Wednesday approved the moratorium, as drafted on July 23, to bar new Bitcoin miners from receiving site plan approval. But the miners already established in Massena can continue to operate there.

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Town Supervisor Steve O’Shaughnessy told Motherboard that Massena is in the midst of “rebranding and working out a tourism aspect,” and the Bitcoin miners based out of “unsightly old trailers and sea boxes” along the public road are putting a crimp in that ambition.

Bitcoin miners are specialized computers that power the world’s largest cryptocurrency, with a market cap of $768 billion. Computers compete to solve cryptographic puzzles and validate transactions on the network, a task that rewards them with newly-minted bitcoins.

Bitcoin miners are flocking to Massena in part because the town has cheap and abundant power thanks to a hydroelectric dam on the St. Lawrence River. Residents pay 3.8 cents per kilowatt hour—an absolute bargain considering that Miami, which is trying to lure Bitcoin miners fleeing the ongoing crackdown in China, has a residential rate of 10.7 cents, although miners may secure better prices. The US average is 13.3 cents.

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Massena is also a former manufacturing hub, and Bitcoin miners like to set up shop on infrastructure abandoned by heavy industry or military. Coinmint, one of the Bitcoin miners in town, operates out of a former aluminum smelter site.

But there is even a convenience store converted to a small mining site, Sam Carbone, Deputy Town Supervisor, told Motherboard. “Calls and emails keep coming every day for more mining [sites].”

All miners will have to abide by new regulations the town will draft up by November 30, when the moratorium lifts.

“We're going to require a hard permanent structure for any technology company. But we aren't going to delve into the type of siding that they need or any of the other things to make it pretty,” O’Shaughnessy said. 

Massena’s aesthetic concerns set it apart from nearby Plattsburgh, the second location of Coinmint. In the winter of 2017-2018, gas-guzzling Bitcoin miners there led to a massive spike in energy bills for residents. The miners used up a block of low-cost hydro power, forcing everyone to buy energy on the open market. Following that experience, the city placed an 18-month moratorium on Bitcoin mining in March 2018.

Massena’s energy provider has learnt a lesson from Plattsburgh’s experience, and it’s taken appropriate measures. 

“[Massena Electric] went to the Public Service Commission, with fear that the companies are going to move in and just hook up and start using all of [the power],” O’Shaughnessy said. It also has its own moratorium on new power deals with Bitcoin miners.

“We don't want them coming in and taking our low-cost hydro power,” O’Shaughnessy said. He said the town welcomes miners otherwise. 

New miners seeking to move to Massena will need to hold fire as town officials have 90 days to hammer out the details of an aesthetically-conscious regulation while the moratorium is in place. And when they finally come in, they better look pretty.