A public utility in north-central Washington state wants to root out a new kind of outlaw: the rogue bitcoin miner.
Bitcoin “miners” don’t wear hard hats or carry pickaxes. Rather, they lend computing power to earn virtual currency. Their specialized computers process and record network transactions 24/7. In the Pacific Northwest, bitcoin operations are concentrating around The Dalles, Moses Lake and the Wenatchee Valley to take advantage of cheap hydropower.
Chelan County Public Utility District managers say some miners are creating power spikes and fire risk by secretly setting up in apartments, abandoned businesses and mini-storage units — all places unsuited to high-demand, nonstop electricity use.
This week, the Chelan County PUD board directed their staff to take “all necessary steps” to hunt down and shut down unauthorized bitcoin operations.
“Not only are we concerned, we’re incensed that individuals are putting people at risk,” Commissioner Steve McKenna said on Monday. “We’re not going to tolerate it. This is a strong message, and I want to make that very clear.”
Steps that the utility staff can take to uncover rogue miners resemble strategies used in the past to detect illegal indoor marijuana grows. These include monitoring for extraordinary, sustained electricity usage spikes.
When the PUD discovers unauthorized cryptocurrency operations, it can disconnect service and potentially report unauthorized loads to fire officials and to law enforcement as power theft because the specific commercial use should have a higher rate.
The PUD commissioners said they also want to explore new fees or penalties to impose on rogue miners who overload circuits and threaten the safety of the electric grid.