US town of Massena bans bitcoin mines as they're 'too ugly'

The town is popular for miners because a nearby hydroelectric dam offers cheap power.
The town is popular for miners because a nearby hydroelectric dam offers cheap power. Photo credit: Getty Images

A town in the US state of New York has put a 90-day moratorium on new bitcoin mines - but not because of the much-discussed environmental impact of the process.

Massena, which is just minutes from the Canadian border, approved the temporary ban last week because of an argument claiming the mines were lowering the tone of the town.

Miners use large banks of powerful computers to process and solve complex problems and are rewarded for doing so with bitcoin. That requires a lot of electricity, with estimates bitcoin miners use more than the entire country of Argentina each year.

If the process continues without alteration, bitcoin could generate enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet by more than 2C by 2033, Dr Tara Shirvani, a disruptive technologies expert has said.

But town supervisor Steve O'Shaughnessy told Vice's Motherboard that Massena was trying to work out how to rebrand with a view to tourism and miners were working out of "unsightly old trailers" alongside the public road.

"We don't want Massena to be filled up with these sea boxes throughout the town. We don't want it littered with these trailers that are pumping out bitcoin," he also told WWNYTV.

"We just want to make sure if they are going to come here, that it's a nice presentable building."

Massena is popular with miners partly because of the low cost of electricity in the town. Residents pay just 3.8 US cents per kilowatt hour, while the average in the United States is 13.3 cents, Motherboard reported.

"The key components for the developers is low cost electricity and reliability, which are two things we've always had," said Andrew McMahon, Massena Electric superintendent.

The proximity of a hydroelectric dam on the St Lawrence river helps with that, while abandoned manufacturing infrastructure also attracts those looking to make money with cryptocurrencies.

Coinmint, one of the mining operations, uses a former aluminium smelter to hold the hardware necessary to make bitcoin.

Massena appears to have learned from another town which suffered from an influx of miners.

Plattsburgh, just 140km from Massena, put its own 18-month moratorium on mining in 2018 after miners used up the low-cost hydroelectric power, leading to massive energy bill increases for residents of the town.

That won't happen in Massena, with Massena Electric negotiating with three mining companies already, and imposing its own moratorium on new companies. This will ensure it protects existing customers, it says.

Massena is 320km away from Mechanicville, where Albany Engineering Corp turned a historic hydroelectric power plant into a bitcoin mine because it made more money doing that than selling the power to the National Grid.