(TNS) — Milam County in Central Texas was economically hammered this year by the closure of its coal-fired power plant and adjacent mine. Now, a new, high-tech virtual mining operation is on its way to ease some of that financial pain.
Chinese firm Bitmain Technologies is opening cryptocurrency mining operations at the site of a former aluminum smelter outside Rockdale, according to the local newspaper Rockdale Reporter, and confirmed by a local official.
Company officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment and are yet to publicly announce the project.
The site of the bitcoin mining operation is next door to Dallas-based Luminant's Sandow power plant, which closed in January. The new bitcoin operation is expected to create 300 to 500 jobs and offset the 325 jobs lost at the power plant and mine.
Bitcoin mining refers to the use of high-powered computing hardware to verify and tally up the "blocks" in a blockchain — logs in an online ledger that keeps track of digital currency transactions. In return, miners are rewarded with bitcoin worth thousands of dollars each.
It wasn't clear when the new facility would open. One local official said he was unable to comment publicly on plans for the former Alcoa site.
On the job site Indeed.com, Bitmain Technologies listed the need for a project manager for the Rockdale location, as well as one in Wenatchee, Wash. No other positions were listed yet.
The bitcoin mining operation, however, has been described as the worst-kept secret in the Rockdale area. Many area residents have long been discussing rumors that a bitcoin mining company was planned to move into the old Alcoa plant site, which has been shuttered for about a decade.
Bitmain Technologies, based in Beijing, is known to many as the creator of the Antminer cryptocurrency mining computer. The equipment is used to mine bitcoin and other digital currencies, which are unlocked through complex mathematical computations.
On Thursday afternoon, one bitcoin was worth more than $7,400. Previously, the digital currency peaked at more than $19,000 last year.
Bitcoin was originally created as a new currency that could be used anonymously and independent of any government. However, its acceptance as a currency replacement hasn't been widespread.
Bitcoin is accepted by Microsoft for its app store, travel website Expedia and some Subway restaurants. But only a tiny fraction of businesses accept any kind of cryptocurrency.
Due to its anonymity, Bitcoin has also become infamous for its use in purchasing drugs, child pornography and other illegal goods on online marketplaces.
The increased value of bitcoin — now seen as a commodity to invest in rather than currency — has sparked the creation of large operations like the one planned for Rockdale. As more people mine bitcoin, it takes more processing power and electricity to unlock them.
Although Bitmain Technology is known for its bitcoin work, the company leadership is also interested in the growing field of artificial intelligence, or AI. Both efforts require large amounts of computing horsepower.
Bitmain Technology's Milam County location would be at least the second bitcoin mining operation to set up shop at a former aluminum plant.
Coinmint started operating a major "digital currency data center" in New York in a former Alcoa aluminum smelter in May. Like bitcoin mining, aluminum smelters require large amounts of electricity and the infrastructure to handle that power usage.
In New York, the electricity came partly from hydroelectric power generated by the St. Lawrence River. Outside Rockdale, the Alcoa plant used electricity generated from the adjacent power plant and the nearby lignite coal mine that supplied the fuel.
That Texas power plant is now closed, but the Alcoa site has heavy duty electrical infrastructure needed for a large bitcoin mining operation.
There is also a former Alcoa aluminum plant site in Wenatchee, Wash., where Bitmain Technologies is seeking a project manager. That part of Washington is already a hub of cryptocurrency mining thanks to plentiful hydroelectric power.
That electricity use does concern some observers. Combined, bitcoin mining consumes about the same amount of electricity as Chile, according to the website Digiconomist.
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