Crypto operation: running with no water

Published 12:29 pm Thursday, February 3, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Arguably the biggest take-away from the Claiborne County Regional Planning Commission meeting is the fact that the cryptocurrency mining and hosting operation in the southern tip of the county is now up and running without water. Water is an essential tool in combating the heat generated from the industrial fans that cool the servers that “dig” for crypto coin.

Scott Wade, head of operations for Exponential Digital (previously known as Ankr), the LLC business under the umbrella of PrimeBlock, said he had no idea just where the water would come.

Meanwhile, there are reportedly no fire departments in the county that can successfully manage an electrical fire. When pressed, Wade said he had “electrical rated fire extinguishers” on site.

Email newsletter signup

If a fire should break out, the result would be noxious fumes escaping into the air that would affect the neighbors. Wade said he had yet to address a plan of action to alert the neighbors of the need to evacuate.

The second take-away involves the planners’ inability to stop the operation due to the fact that the county has no zoning laws. Commission chairman Rodney Fugate repeatedly said there were no regulations currently in place to address this issue.

Fugate said this situation could be remedied “in this election year” if residents got the ball rolling by letting their county commissioners know they would be in favor of zoning laws.

Enough heat would generate the necessary revisions that could eventually be brought before the Claiborne Commission for adoption. County planner Jeff Neely warned that zoning regulations might not sit well with other county residents if it interferes with their personal freedoms on their land.

“There’re gives and takes. And, every time it’s brought up, we get shot down,” said Neely.

The third take-away is the lack of the Tennessee Dept. of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) approval of a septic system – the operation has none and it is unclear just when some type of bathroom facilities will be provided for the employees. Wade did not elaborate on this issue.

County mayor Joe Brooks says that until TDEC gives its okay, he will not issue a county building permit.

The Planning Commission meeting drew possibly the largest crowd in a very long time, with the majority of the individuals at times heatedly expressing their displeasure of the crypto operation and the way in which it was brought into the county “under the radar” of officials and the general public.

Besides the water, septic and building permit issues, the matter of possible computer hacking was broached by a resident. Wade assured her that his particular setup was not capable of hacking – that his computers do not have memory and are incapable of storing information.

“Our computers are specifically designed to do one thing and one thing only, and that’s to solve these equations. They cannot do anything else,” said Wade.

Others in the audience were concerned about the livestock and marine life.

One resident asked whether Powell Valley Electric Cooperative and Exponential Digital would be willing to wait until some of the worrisome issues can be considered. He was asked if he would agree to relocate the operation to an Industrial Park.

Wade said his company is in operation and that moving would be incredibly expensive.

“We are going to operate as normal,” said Wade.

He said his company has set up crypto operations most recently in northwestern North Carolina and east Tennessee. He said there is now favorable legislation including tax laws to facilitate the setup of these types of operations.

He added that his company works to insure zero carbon emissions whenever possible by choosing areas that use hydro, solar, wind, natural gas and coal power production sources.

“It was never our intention to come in and bypass anything. Through our contractors and things that we know we needed to get for this county specifically, it did not seem we needed to get a building permit. We thought we were complying with everything we needed to. It was never our intention to try to slide around or be sneaky.

“That’s why I wanted to come here today to represent our company and to ensure that we’re not trying to avoid any laws or regulations of the county. We want to comply. It is still my understanding that we did not need to get a building permit,” said Wade.

Jason Laws, one of the most vocal opponents to the crypto mining operation, asked that the permit be denied and that the necessary zoning regulations be put into place.

“I’m asking Powell Valley Electric to do what’s good for the community. I’m asking for your company to do what’s good for the community. And I’m asking for Claiborne County government to help protect the citizens. If you want this here, put it somewhere where it’s zoned,” said Laws.