Birtle residents raise concerns over proposed cryptocurrency mine

The southwestern Manitoba municipality of Prairie View has a tough decision to make in the coming months, as its council must decide whether to approve a new cryptocurrency mine proposed in Birtle.

Reeve says council is weighing pros and cons before making decision

Skychain Technologies brought this container in for its cryptocurrency mine. The company plans to have 12 of these in Birtle. (Submitted by Roberta Hutchison)

The southwestern Manitoba municipality of Prairie View has a tough decision to make in the coming months, as its council must decide whether to approve a new cryptocurrency mine proposed in Birtle.

Skychain Technologies, a company based in Vancouver, has purchased two plots of land in town with the hopes of installing 12 containers in the area to hold computers to mine bitcoin.

Birtle, a town of about 600 people about 300 kilometres west of Winnipeg, is part of Prairie View Municipality. 

"They say that probably five people will be hired, so for our area, that means possibly five new families with homes and purchasing abilities within our community," Prairie View Reeve Linda Clark said. 

Council heard from a company representative last Tuesday about the project's potential impacts, Clark said.

The project could bring economic activity, new industry and tax benefits to the rural area, but several residents have concerns about noise pollution, she said.

"Birtle is a town situated in a valley and it's serene and it's beautiful. It has tourist development already and so we really need to weigh very carefully whether this is the right thing for the community," Clark said.

CBC contacted Skychain Technologies and the company declined to provide comment for this story. 

Roberta Hutchison, a 16-year resident who lives within a mile of the proposed site, said she went to the public meeting last Tuesday, which had around 40 people in attendance, to raise her concerns. 

"It uses a lot of hydro [power]," she said. "These people want to generate bitcoins, but it doesn't benefit the community really in any way or doesn't offer us a service."

The process by which cryptocurrencies — or digital currencies, with bitcoin being the most popular — are created and exchanged requires a tremendous amount of computing power.

Instead of having a central banking authority control transactions, a public digital ledger, controlled by a network of users, records every virtual-currency transaction.

The record-keeping process requires computers around the globe to solve complex mathematical problems and then verify the output. When that's complete, the transaction and the solved equation are added to what is called a "blockchain" as a permanent record.

People who purchase these specialized math-solving computers are paid through the creation and issuance of new bitcoin. They become, essentially, tech-era gold miners — hence the term "bitcoin miners."

Skychain Technologies purchased this plot of land in Birtle, Man., hoping to install 12 containers on it to mine bitcoin. (Submitted by Roberta Hutchison)

CBC asked Manitoba Hydro how much electricity the Birtle project would use. In a statement, it says "each inquiry for capacity is site-specific and dependent on how much power is being requested." 

"Any new business — crypto or otherwise — we work with customers to review their requirements and compare them with what capacity is available on the power line supplying the property and the substation," the statement said. 

Hutchison says hydro poles were recently installed on the site, and she's worried noise from the fans will scare away local wildlife and disrupt the peaceful environment. 

"Once it's in here, I mean, that's it. We're screwed. You know, we'll be sitting on our deck listening to these loud fans humming 24-7," she said. 

Hutchison lives within a mile of the site, where she said these hydro poles were recently installed. (Submitted by Roberta Hutchison)

Hutchison, who's 72, said she's also concerned the development will devalue her house, which she's hoping to sell in a few years. 

"We're getting older and it's hard for me to manage the yard," she said. "But … who's going to want to buy this house or all the houses within a mile of this operation with those fans running that awful noise?" 

Clark says the council is conducting research and studies about noise control must be done before a decision is made.

"This is all very initial," she said. "We're in the very early stages of any decisions."