Chelan County PUD Board holds public hearing on bitcoin, block chain mining rates

Commissioners extend moratorium, schedule more discussion for Aug. 20

The Chelan PUD Board held a public hearing at the Confluence Technology Center Monday, August 6. Pictured from left are General Manager Steve Wright, Commissioners Garry Arsenault, Steve McKenna, Ann Congdon and Randy Smith.

 

 

Chelan County PUD commissioners last week listened to comments from 14 people on a proposed rate for cryptocurrency operations that reflects the cost of buying variable-priced market power to serve miners and assures cost recovery for any new infrastructure investments.  

The comments on Aug. 6 came at the second hearing held on the moratorium adopted March 19 for cryptocurrency service applications.  

Following Monday’s hearing, PUD commissioners extended the moratorium until Aug. 20 to allow time for staff and board members to consider what they heard. Board members will continue discussion of the proposed rate at 1 p.m. at the next board meeting.

Commissioners endorsed a continued cautious approach to setting the new rate. Board Vice President Garry Arsenault thanked those who spoke and asked for understanding of the commission’s responsibility to balance risks from the new load to existing customer-owners and to “safeguard the county’s precious jewel, our hydropower.”

Protecting existing PUD customers while giving the new technology a chance to be successful in Chelan County is the goal of the new rate, said Lindsey Mohns, Customer Utilities business adviser.

General Manager Steve Wright said he hoped the smaller crowd, about 30 people, than at the May 14 hearing reflected progress in increasing community comfort that the impact of serving bitcoin mining and similar operations will be neutral to positive for existing customers. “We’re trying to turn lemons into lemonade through right-sizing our pricing and the amount of service we offer.”

Most speakers said they were cryptocurrency operators. Small miners questioned the impact of a variable, market-based price for power on their operations. One of the larger operators expressed support for the policy, but asked commissioners for consideration for those who have played by the rules so far.

Three people questioned using the PUD’s renewable hydropower for such an energy-intense industry.

This proposal seeks to be consistent with the District’s policy to provide the best value for the most people for the longest period of time.

Studies since the first moratorium hearing in May have shown there is transmission system capacity to serve some cryptocurrency load growth, but costs will significantly increase once that capacity is allocated, Mohns said.

Chelan PUD now serves 22 authorized cryptocurrency and similar data operations, a combined load of up to 16 megawatts. Before the moratorium, requests had come in that could have more than doubled the District’s retail load of 180-200 megawatts.

Information on Chelan PUD’s continuing response to cryptocurrency mining issues is on the website at chelanpud.org/cryptocurrency.

In other business, commissioners:

• Heard the good news forecasts show the District will end the year with a positive bottom line of $12 million better than budget. Staff said higher revenues and lower expenses are leading to the improved forecast.

• Heard the timeline for completing Olds Station property agreements with the Port of Chelan County by mid- to late September. They also heard concerns from community member Russ Speidel about the PUD leaving downtown Wenatchee. He asked for reconsideration of keeping a portion of the facilities at the existing site. 

• Reviewed second quarter progress on the District’s 2018 performance plan. General Manager Steve Wright said staff response to cryptocurrency requests has delayed some scheduled work, but that staff is making good progress on a new rate. 

• Heard plans to use a new contracting method for new support buildings at Rock Island Dam. Staff will ask for board approval at the Aug. 20 meeting for the General Contractor/Construction Manager approach. The total project estimate is about $40 million.  

Upcoming events:

• August 20 – Special commission meeting, 8:30 a.m., PUD headquarters

· August 20 – Commission meeting, 10 a.m. boardroom; 1 p.m. cryptocurrency rate discussion

• Sept. 4 – Commission meeting, 10 a.m. boardroom (rescheduled due to Labor Day)

 

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