Bargain electric rates are attracting digital currency entrepreneurs, but three public utilities districts are reassessing how they deal with the surging demand, and whether they should even try to keep up. Residential customers, meanwhile, worry that their rates will go up.

Public hearings for rural electric utilities are rarely sellout events. But the crowd that showed up in Wenatchee two weeks ago for a hearing about Bitcoin mining in Chelan County was so large that utility staff had to open a second room with a video feed for the overflow.

The turnout wasn’t surprising. Chelan County, along with neighboring Douglas and Grant counties, has been at the center of the U.S. Bitcoin boom since 2012, when the region’s ultracheap hydropower began attracting cryptocurrency “miners.” These entrepreneurs earn Bitcoin by solving increasingly complicated mathematical problems established by the shadowy creators of the digital currency.

The process, which the industry calls mining, involves trillions of computer calculations and sucks up huge amounts of power. As a result, an area famous for apples, wheat and conservative politics has been transformed into a kind of cyber-boomtown, with Bitcoin mining operations that range from large-scale, state-of-the-art warehouses to repurposed cargo containers to backyard sheds.

By the end of this year, according to some estimates, the Mid-Columbia Basin could account for as much as 30 percent of the global output of new Bitcoin and large shares of other digital currencies, such as Litecoin and Ethereum. But as in any boomtown, success has come at a cost. Read more from seattletimes.com…

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