limestone, tennessee. — began as a low buzz one day last spring. then it got louder, and soon some residents said the noise was like an airplane engine idling on a nearby runway.
The unincorporated cluster of homes and churches at the base of the Appalachian Mountains offers expansive views of lush farmland, thick forests, and high peaks in every direction. the neighbors know each other. most residents have family ties that span generations or moved to this quiet spot to escape the noise of the city.
Reading: Appalachian town bitcoin mine
Instead, the buzz came to them in April of last year when Tennessee-based red dog technologies opened a plant in limestone to mine (or create) new bitcoins, the original and still largest cryptocurrency. .
The process relies on massive computers performing complex calculations, all while being kept at a constant temperature by equally massive cooling fans, and that can get noisy.
The limestone mine operates day and night, spiking in volume overnight and on weekends, when bitcoin electricity-hungry computers can take advantage of downtime and lower prices on the power grid and increase its algorithmic resolution power.
“We couldn’t get people to meet in our front yard because we could barely hear each other speak,” said Preston Holley, whose home is across the street from the mine.
Appalachia, with its cheap electricity from coal, natural gas and hydro, was already attractive to bitcoin miners when China, which dominated global production, cracked down on such operations last summer, concerned about volatility. of digital currencies.
Companies forced out of China began exploring new locations in rural America. Appalachia, more accustomed to hard-hat workers than tech-savvy blockchain enthusiasts, saw an influx of miners.
But while supporters tout economic benefits like an expanded tax base and job creation, residents in areas that initially welcomed crypto mining are now experiencing buyers’ remorse.
Washington County Commissioner Kent Harris remembers his vote that authorized the limestone crypto mining operation and shakes his head.
“It looks like a German prisoner of war camp,” Harris said of the bitcoin mine, which is surrounded by barriers, cameras and fences topped with barbed wire.
“I have never regretted a vote like this. I wish I could get it back,” she said.
A lawsuit filed by the county in November accused red dog technologies, the mine owner, and brightridge, the local electricity provider that owns the land on which the mine is located, of zoning violations and causing “injuries, immediate and irreparable loss, damage. and damage.”
brightridge declined to comment on all aspects of the case, citing ongoing litigation. But according to local media reports, Brightridge CEO Jeff Dykes affirmed the company’s desire to mitigate noise issues.
todd napier, director of site acquisition for red dog, told washington county commissioners at a public meeting last summer that they are taking the noise problem very seriously.
“We thought it was a data center,” Harris said, noting that the zoning application had mentioned a “blockchain data center.”
added that the county had worked closely with brightridge on many previous projects with no problems. And because of this association, no one did their due diligence and greenlit what was billed as a “solar farm and data center.”
county commissioners blocked attempts by brightridge and red dog to open a second mine.
The lawsuit claims that the bitcoin facility violates local zoning ordinances. “Brightridge exacerbates the problem by refusing to cease operation in the face of repeated written and verbal requests,” he alleges.
tim whaley, director of government and public affairs for brightridge, declined to comment.
On Tuesday, a judge agreed with the county that the zoning was violated, but allows the mine to remain open pending appeal.
red dog said in court papers that it had told commissioners that it was using the site to mine bitcoins and that it had spent $600,000 on noise mitigation. the company also said in court documents that it would face a loss of $36 million over the next 18 months if the mine is forced to close.
Meanwhile, the limestone residents are left dealing with the noise.
Holley, her wife, Christy, and their five daughters built a new house eight years ago with views of the nearby mountains. the brightridge substation 100 yards from her front porch wasn’t the most attractive, but it didn’t completely destroy the view. the mine inside the giant shipping container in the same compound was a different story.
“This is our forever home,” Holley said. But the noise emanating from the bitcoin mine every night, the Holleys fear, has sunk their property value and is keeping them awake at night. Red Dog’s recent noise mitigation measures, such as wrapping the shipping container in green shrink wrap, have muffled the sound, but not enough to prevent it from entering the house.
“The noise is different now, but I wouldn’t say better,” Holley said.
summer also brings more noise as fans are needed 24 hours a day to cool down the computer.
craig ponder, pastor of new salem baptist church, a red brick church perched on a hill a mile from the mine, compared the noise to jet engines he heard while serving in the army. He said the noise can make it hard for parishioners to chat with one another in the parking lot after services.
Recent noise mitigation measures have helped, ponder said. “I have to give them support for trying to reduce the sound.”
where you hear the noise depends on many factors, including wind, topography, and time of day, according to sound experts.
some residents up to five miles away report hearing the mine. by contrast, others near the mine say noise is not a problem.
deanna laws, who lives about a mile from the mine on new salem road, said the mine was never much of a bother. “But since they put up the sound barriers, we didn’t hear it.”
Such disparities are to be expected, given the environment, said Sean Connolly, founder of Big Sky Acoustics, an independent sound mitigation company in Big Sky, Mont.
“in a rural setting, you have a very low ambient noise level anyway, so you walk outside and a creek gurgles, birds are singing, but there’s not a lot of man-made noise. once you take over some of these bitcoin mining facilities, the noise is broadcast, there’s nothing to hide or mask it,” he said.
About a mile from the brightridge substation, carolyn broyles’ house offers stunning mountain views, but when the wind is right, the sound of the bitcoin mine carries over the top of a nearby hill and reaches to your garden and house.
When he first heard the noise in the spring of 2021, he thought it was tractors, which would not be unusual on his 200-plus acres of farmland. except it was April.
“there was no reason for there to be tractors,” broyles said, so he drove and soon found himself looking at the bitcoin mine. she claims that local residents were misled.
Court documents filed by red dog said he told officials the site would be used as a bitcoin mine.
But those objections from local residents have complicated prospects for cryptocurrency mining in Appalachia, despite cheap land, plentiful energy, and utilities hungry for additional revenue streams to replace electricity customers. manufacturing that have been gone for decades.
john warren, CEO of gem mining, which owns 32,000 bitcoin miners, said many people entering the bitcoin business may not have anticipated the noise.
“This is an industry that is on fire right now, and many people may not have realized how loud the machines are; there are a lot of inexperienced people coming into the industry and causing problems,” warren said.
While dozens of new cryptocurrency mines have opened in Appalachia since China’s crackdown, limestone isn’t the only one receiving mixed reception.
In Cherokee County, North Carolina, local residents were initially in favor or indifferent to new crypto businesses. The first bitcoin operation took over an abandoned factory in the city of marble. the enclosed space initially didn’t produce much noise, said dan eichenbaum, chairman of the board of county commissioners.
A second, unenclosed facility was then opened, leading to noise problems similar to those found in limestone.
Cherokee County has taken a less confrontational approach than Washington County, Tennessee, but it’s unclear what the end results will be. “noise is something very relative; what bothers some people doesn’t bother others,” Eichenbaum said.
said the board is trying to negotiate with the bitcoin mining operator for a resolution.