A cryptocurrency mining company has lost a bid to force B.C. Hydro to provide the vast amounts of power needed for its operations, upholding the provincial government’s right to pause power connections for new crypto miners.
Conifex Timber Inc., a forestry company that branched out into cryptocurrency mining, had gone to the B.C. Supreme Court to have the policy declared invalid.
But Justice Michael Tammen says in a ruling issued Friday that the government’s move in December 2022 to pause new connections for cryptocurrency mining for 18 months was “reasonable” and not “unduly discriminatory.”
B.C. Hydro CEO Christopher O’Riley had told the court in an affidavit that the data centres proposed by Conifex would have consumed 2.5 million megawatt-hours of electricity each year.
That’s enough to power and heat more than 570,000 apartments, according to data on the power provider’s website.
Company wanted 2 new B.C. mines
In a statement released Monday, Conifex said it’s “disappointed” with the court’s ruling and is considering an appeal.
The company, which already operates a sawmill and bio-energy plant in Mackenzie, B.C. — about 160 kilometres north of Prince George — argued in its notice of civil claim that by pausing negotiations for its new cryptocurrency projects, the B.C. government and B.C. Hydro had caused ongoing losses and damages to the company.
The company had wanted to open new crypto mining companies in Salmon Valley, just north of Prince George, and Ashton Creek, north of Kelowna.
It had already started talks with B.C. Hydro and, according to its notice of civil claim, paid $252,000 to move the projects forward in the proposal process.
But in December 2022, the B.C. government stopped taking new requests to hook up cryptocurrency mining operations to the electrical grid for 18 months, pending a study on how the industry is impacting the province’s economic and environmental goals.
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“Cryptocurrency mining consumes massive amounts of electricity to run and cool banks of high-powered computers 24/7/365, while creating very few jobs in the local economy,” Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Josie Osborne said in a written statement at the time.
Crypto operations present ‘conundrum’: B.C. Hydro
Before the provincial government paused new power connections for cryptocurrency miners, B.C. Hydro released a report outlining the “conundrum” they represent to the utility provider.
The report said power demand from cryptocurrency mining operations would challenge clean energy and electrification goals as adoption of things such as electric vehicles and heat pumps increase.
The report said bitcoin mining requires enough energy to power “a small country,” and moratoriums on crypto mining in China, Algeria and some U.S. states “created a significant increase in demand for power in B.C. by cryptocurrency mining operations.”
The court ruling said connection requests over the last few years from cryptocurrency miners in B.C. “far exceeded” B.C. Hydro’s projections.
It said the pause ordered by the government was in response to “the very real prospect that devoting such a large proportion of the available electrical power supply to one industry would leave less energy for other uses, which might result in increased costs to all other residential and industry customers in B.C.”
The province is already working to convert more households toward electrical heating, as well as pushing for an increase in the use of electric cars.
It is also projecting increased demand for electricity from industrial projects ranging from hydrogen power projects to new mines.
B.C. Premier David Eby recently announced a $36-billion plan to expand electricity production in the province.
Osborne told CBC in an interview last year that the moratorium on new crypto-mine projects was meant to give the province time to consult with industry to make sure energy is being put to good use.
“We don’t want to put that electricity at risk. It’s why we have to take this pause right now and instead use the electricity for the best opportunities in the future,” she said.
In its statement Monday, Conifex said it believes crypto-mining is part of that future.
“Conifex continues to believe that the provincial government is missing out on several opportunities available to it to improve energy affordability, accelerate technological innovation, strengthen the reliability and resiliency of the power distribution grid in British Columbia, and achieve more inclusive economic growth,” the statement said.