Utility’s Bitcoin Mining Raises Hackles of Environmentalists

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Missouri Utility’s Bitcoin Mining Getting Attention

A $1 million data bitcoin mining center quietly installed in April at the Sioux Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant in West Alton, Missouri owned by Ameren Corporation is coming under intense scrutiny.

Ameren officials claim the half-megawatt facility which is being used to mine bitcoin and which gets its power from the 972MW Center has already collected over 20 bitcoins. The popular digital currency is presently valued at over $60,000 each. The company’s Vice President of regulatory and legislative affairs Warren Wood suggested the crypto mining activity helps fill in the “valleys” that come with low consumer demand allowing the plant to operate more efficiently.

A Difference of Opinion

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Sioux Energy Center has long been a concern of environmental groups. The Center is alleged to be sitting on 3 million tons of coal ash in unlined storage pits that can leach into groundwater and waterways, and efforts to have Ameren remove the toxic materials have so far been largely unsuccessful. In addition, Ashtracker, an energy pollution data reporting site claims that 15 of the 29 monitoring wells surrounding the plant have been found to be above federal advisory levels for pollutants such as boron, sulfate, lithium, and other substances.

Andy Knott, a senior representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, says the data center just increases the demand for coal energy. This comes at a time when climate change targets consistently take aim at phasing out coal-fired plants. In Knott’s opinion, the data center is “essentially a way to prop up coal use.”

Better Suggestions?

Prior to the installation of the data center, the plant was already running intermittently at only about 17 percent of its full capacity, so there’s little argument Ameren’s bitcoin mining has created a lucrative second revenue stream. Wood said, however, that the computing power of the data center could be put to other good use and the company is open to other ideas.

Knott suggested if the Sioux plant were to continue to operate, then the excess energy produced might be put to better use such as for battery storage.

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