Québec, Canada has recently been thought to be a bitcoin mining boom town, as more data centers set up there to take advantage of relatively cold climes and low cost electricity. Not everyone is happy about it, especially the local government who fail to see why decentralized, invisible, magic internet money is worth anything at all.
Québec currently boasts over 40 data centers, using roughly 350 megawatts. In just two more years, projections are more mining could result in using something like 1,000 megawatts. Premier Philippe Couillard isn’t pleased, however, scorning, “If you want to come settle here, plug in your servers and do Bitcoin mining, we’re not really interested. There needs to be added value for our society; just having servers to do transaction mining and acquire new bitcoins, I don’t see the added value.”
And come bitcoin mining operations have to one of Canada’s quirkiest provinces. Hydro-Québec, the region’s government owned energy provider, through its CEO Eric Martel claim to have “received hundreds of applications,” according to Montreal Gazette, “which would need more than 9,000 megawatts of energy — about one-quarter of the utility’s total generating capacity of 37,000 megawatts. Hydro-Québec said last month it was in talks with more than 30 cryptocurrency companies.”
He continued, telling the online site, “There’s a real craze for Québec. I’ve got new Linkedin friends from Russia, China and many other places. The phone has been ringing off the hook,” Mr. Martel insisted. Even though Hydro-Québec is the largest utility, it does believe mining requests will not be able to be met. And signs of economic schizophrenia are beginning to show.
For his part, Premier Couillard doesn’t believe bitcoin mining makes for “a real ecosystem or a real technological transformation centered on blockchain.” Again, the province is known for quirky stands, most famously its attachment to the French language … which runs so deeply the state operates as almost a country within a country.
Hydro-Québec seems to have caused its own problem. It solicited the mining community, at least for a while. The outfit has over 60 stations, powering over 36 thousand megawatts, often supplying even parts of New England with surplus. If any government energy provider would be able to accommodate mining, it’d be them.
Still, “If all we do is connect the bitcoin miners who have applied, we could create an issue for ourselves. There are limits to what we can do. I have a huge network with lots of capacity, but I cannot host the entire planet,” Mr. Martel detailed. “If you think of the 10 biggest names in data centres globally, we’re talking to almost everybody. We have available land and our energy is 99 percent renewable. For a company’s branding, it’s much better when you can say your data centre operates with renewable energy.”
In a global economy where countries have either outright banned mining or are regulating it to death, Québec should be careful not to overplay its hand. Capital and business tend to go where they’re welcome. According to the Gazette, Hydro-Québec “will need several months to pore over all the requests, and probably won’t be able to accommodate them all. Nor does the company have plans to build new hydropower plants for the nascent industry. One option Martel is considering is charging bitcoin miners more than the rate of about 5 cents Canadian per kilowatt-hour that industrial users such as data centres would normally pay.”
Will Québec kill the goose that laid the golden egg? Let us know in the comments below.
Images via Pixabay.
Written by C. Edward Kelso